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Kyoto: Traditional Bonfire Site in Kyoto Damaged by Deer

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The area near the summit of Mt. Matsugasaki-Higashiyama in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, is bare.

KYOTO — The site of a traditional Kyoto summer event, in which kanji characters and motifs are depicted by fire on a mountainside, is in danger of collapse.

Wild deer have chomped through the undergrowth, leaving the ground bare, which could trigger a landslide and destroy the fire site and other areas.

The Gozan Okuribi, or five mountains send-off bonfire, is an event held on the evening of Aug. 16, traditionally believed to be a time for those of the earthly world to see off the souls of their ancestors.

The kanji character for “dai,” which means large, is depicted on Mt. Nyoigatake, and those of “myo” and “ho” that make up the word “myoho,” meaning the wondrous teaching of Buddha, are on Mt. Matsugasaki-Nishiyama and Mt. Matsugasaki-Higashiyama.

Another “dai” character is lit up on Mt. Okitayama mountain near the Kinkakuji temple, as well as to a shiplike funagata motif on Mt. Nishigamo-Funeyama, and a toriigata motif, like torii gates at shrine entrances, on Mt. Mandarayama.

The damage was confirmed on Mt. Matsugasaki-Higashiyama in Sakyo Ward, where the character for “ho” is set.

Deer have appeared and for several years have eaten all the azalea shoots and the undergrowth where the huge character is set and on other slopes, according to a local preservation group Matsugasaki Risshokai. The whole mountainside has 63 fire sites, which could be destroyed if a landslide were to occur due to heavy rain or other disasters.

After examining hoofprints and other traces, it was determined that deer entered the hillside area from two sides. The group discussed countermeasures with experts in animal damage prevention from Kyoto University. Matsugasaki Risshokai decided to install metal fences about 2 meters high and 130 meters long on both sides of the hillside at a cost about ¥1.4 million.

The group plans to build fences above and below the area and enclose it as soon as possible, and then plant azaleas and other plants in an effort to rejuvenate the site so the bonfire tradition can continue safely.

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The kanji character “ho” is lit by fire on the hillside in 2011.