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Monday, October 22 2007, 3:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Once a year, as dusk falls, the tiny village of Kurama in the hills to the north of Kyoto becomes an exotic sea of fire. Men dressed only in loincloths shoulder huge flaming torches, bonfires are lit and mikoshi (portable shrines) are carried rowdily through the village and up Mt Kurama to the Yuki Shrine. The whole scene is illuminated by giant torches (tiamatsu) five metres high which shower sparks over the participants and spectators - being hit by a spark is said to be very auspicious. To the powerful beat of a Japanese taiko drum, half a dozen young men hoist up each of these enormous torches (weighing around 100 kilos each) and parade them through the streets, dangerously close to the eaves of the wooden village houses. More torches appear (including small ones for the children) and the procession is joined by the mikoshi, which are shaken and jostled in the manner said to please the kami (deities) inside. The festival reaches its most dramatic point at around 10pm when the procession finally reaches the precincts of the Yuki Shrine. This wild ritual is thought to date back over 1000 years to the enshrining of the kami in the Yuki Shrine, as protectors of the tantric Buddhist Kurama Temple further up the mountain. The best viewing spot is probably at the foot of the steps in front of the Kurama Temple Gate. Unless you go very early, you'll have enormous competition for a place - the crowds are overwhelming.
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