Nanbu Fire Festival

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The Nanbu Fire Festival is held each August 15 and sees a roughly two-kilometer stretch of the Fujikawa River transformed into a sea of crimson flame, while fireworks light up the summer sky with equal intensity.

The festival originated in the mid-Edo period (1603-1868) as an event to end Obon, an important Buddhist festival during which ancestral spirits are welcomed back to the realm of the living, and to simultaneously pray for the protection of rice fields from beetles and other pests.

After years of inactivity, the Nanbu Fire Festival was revived on a grand scale in 1988. It is once again one of Yamanashi Prefecture’s most eagerly anticipated annual events, wowing thousands of spectators along both banks of the river and up on vantage points such as Utsubuna Park.

The four main events begin with participants hurling burning torches into a straw beehive (empty of any bees) raised on a wooden pole tens of meters high. Next, a pile of old wooden stupas from nearby temples is set alight, burning up accompanied by solemn Buddhist chanting.

Things then take a turn for the meditatively enchanting, as lanterns are floated on the river to see off the ancestral spirits on their journey back to the underworld. At the festival’s climax, 108 cone-shaped stacks of firewood—lined up on the riverbanks to represent the 108 delusions and worldly desires of the human mind—are set ablaze, creating a spectacle that sears itself into one’s retinas and soul.

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