|Worshippers writing their gomagi slats|
Ginkakuji, which is charming and captivating, is one of my favourite temples. After a stroll through the gardens, I turned to the mission at hand--searching for a prime viewing spot. Many hotels and other establishments guarantee you a view of the bonfires for a price. However, I like enjoying festivals among the crowds, and finding a location from where to view the bonfires is, apparently, a challenge.
A torii on Imadegawa-dori marks the entrance to Yoshidayama, one of the recommended locations to view the bonfires. At the lookout, I found people had already staked their viewing spots with tripods. To my disappointment, daimonji, which appears at an angle, was the only bonfire visible from here, but the view was spectacular. I saw movement around the pyres on which wheat straw, pine needles and the gomogi slats--mine included--would be laid. A gentleman here mentioned that Kamogawa river was the best location to view daimonji face on. The search continues. (If you decide to view daimonji from Yoshidayama, take a torch.)
|Camera ready on Yoshidayama facing daimonji in the distance|
I continued along the west bank of Kamogawa with my map open hoping to find the spot that the locals would want to keep a secret. Even though daimonji was clearly visible, trees and buildings obstructed the other bonfires, especially, at river level. I was still hopeful, though, that I would find a good location to view as many of the bonfires, as possible.
I noticed less people between Aoibashi and Izumojibashi bridges and felt nervous. I asked an elderly couple preparing for the arrival of their friends and neighbours for advice on the best vantage point. Myo-ho would not be visible due to the buildings obstructing the view from here, and only the stern of the ship would be visible from Izumojibashi. The wife explained how, centuries ago, each household lit their own bonfire, but the authorities decided to burn the bonfires collectively in mountain clearings due to the fire hazard. As I took my leave, I asked about the absence of the ubiquitous food stalls found at all festivals in Japan and was disappointed to hear that a city ordinance enacted in recent years banned the stalls during Gozan-no-okuribi.
Here, I took a bus to Funaokayama, which is directly west of Kitaojibashi along Kitaoji-dori, resolute that I would stay there no matter what the view. The climb was steeper than Yoshidayama--promising. At the lookout, I was greeted by the sight of many unattended plastic sheets staking claims. With map in hand, I wandered among the plastic sheets, lining up the mountains, and found a small spot from which I had a clear view of daimonji, myo and hidari-daimonji, and a partial view of ho and the boat. Mission accomplished with two hours to spare. I spread a newspaper, anchored it with rocks and visited the local convenience shop.
To pass the time, I talked with the people around me, and I found that most--like myself--were not locals. Some were from cities as far as Tokyo, and others from Taiwan and Sweden. Apparently, the locals choose to stay home to watch the event on TV.
The practice run at hidari-daimonji caused a minor stir. People took photos and adjusted their camera settings ready for the main event. Everyone stood in anticipation minutes before the lighting of daimonji, the first bonfire. The lookout was becoming so crowded that it felt like being on a peak-hour train.
The article originally appeared on the Official Kyoto Travel Guide web site in August 2011. (The photos on this page were taken by George Bourdaniotis and differ to the official photos that accompanied the original article.)
[September 15, 2014] I have just finished working on an episode of Core Kyoto on this ceremony to air September 18 and 19 on NHK World.