Imperial Palace Kyoto, Japan

Notice the character “大” on the mountain, this character is lighted up during the Obon festival every August 16th .

Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), more commonly known as Daimonji (大文字), is one of the iconic festivals of Kyoto, Japan. It is the culmination of the O-Bon festival on August 16th, in which five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city. It signifies the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, who are said to visit this world during O-Bon, are believed to be returning to the spirit world—thus the name Okuribi (送り火) (roughly, “send-off fire”).

Starting at 8PM, the giant bonfires are lit, each with a distinctive shape. Three of the fires form giant Japanese characters, and two form familiar shapes. The characters, their locations, meanings, and the lighting times are:


  • Daimonji (大文字), the character meaning “large” or “great:”
    • on Daimonji-Yama/Higashi-Yama, Nyoigatake at 8:00PM
  • Myō/Hō (妙・法), the characters meaning “excellent law” (referring to Buddhist teachings):
    • on Matsugasaki, Nishi-Yama/Higashi-Yama at 8:10PM
  • Funagata (舟形), the shape of a boat:
    • on Nishigamo, Funa-Yama at 8:15PM
  • Hidari Daimonji (左大文字), again, the character meaning “large:”
    • on Daihoku-San, Hidaridaimonji-San at 8:15PM
  • Toriigata (鳥居形), the shape of a toriior shrine gate:
    • on Toriimoto, Mandara-San at 8:20PM

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