Gozan-no-Okuribi & Toro Nagashi at Hirosawa-no-Ike
Gozan-no-Okuribi (“Bonfires on Five Mountains”) is a traditional event in Kyoto that takes place on August 16th, during the Obon period. Okuribi (bonfires) form Japanese kanji characters and shapes on mountains around Kyoto town. This event is connected to Obon and it helps to send the ancestral spirits that come home during Obon period off to another world. The bonfires, except for torii-gata, can be seen from vantage points in the town, such as riversides, bridges and the upper levels of office buildings and hotels.
The Dai-monji (big) character on Mount Daimonji (Mt. Nyoiga-take), Higashiyama, Sakyo-ku, is the first to be lit, at 8pm. The shape of the character is elegant and, as such, it is called the feminine Dai. It is best viewed from the banks of the Kamo River, from Maruta-machi to Misono Bridge.
A set of 2 characters, Myo on Mount Mantoro and Ho on Mount Daikokuten in Sakyo-ku, are counted as one and the fires are lit at 8.10pm. It is said that both characters derive from the Hokke sect of Buddhism. Kitayama dori is a good place for Myo and the north end of Takano Bridge is good for Ho.
Funagata on Mount Nishikamofuna, in Kita-ku, forms the shape of a ship and is lit at 8.15pm. It is said that the bow of the ship points to the Western Paradise. A good place to see it is around Misono Bridge.
Hidari-Dai-monji on Mount Okita, Kita-ku, is lit at 8.15pm. Compared to Dai-monji in Higashiyama, it is bold and so is called the masculine Dai. Looking North, this Dai is located on the left, thus it is called Hidari-Dai-monji (left dai character). It is best seen from Nishi-oji street.
Torii-gata (a torii-gate shape) on Mount Mandara in Ukyo-ku, is lit at 8.20pm. As it is located in Nishiyama and it is quite low down, it is difficult to see from the heart of Kyoto. However, this is said to be the most dynamic and beautiful of the 5 bonfires. A good place to see it is from around Hirosawa-no-Ike pond and Arashiyama.
The Toro-nagashi (floating lantern) festival is held on Hirosawa-no-Ike pond at 7pm on the same day (August 16th). Red, white, yellow, blue and purple lanterns are floated in the pond. Unlike a lantern floating festival that is held in a river, here the lanterns are carried to the center of the pond by Japanese boats and floated from the boats. The lanterns are slowly scattered over the water and create an ethereal atmosphere. Hirosawa-no-ike is a good location to enjoy the Torii-gata bonfire and the lantern floating event.
Gojozaka Toki Matsuri (Gojozaka Ceramic Festival) is one of the major festivals held in Kyoto during the summertime, along with Gion Matsuri and Gozan-no-Okuribi. Various types of ceramics are sold at a discounted price (20 to 50 % off) at as many as 500 shops. Famous Japanese ceramics such as Arita, Karatsu, Shigaraki and others are sold, as well as Kiyomizu-yaki (Kyoto-style ceramics). It is held on Gojo dori street (from Higashi oji street to Gojo Bridge) from 9am to 11pm, between August 7th and 10th, and is definitely a must-see for ceramic lovers.