Gozan no Okuribi organizers strike a balance between tradition and safety.

Every year in August, during the Obon season in Japan, Kyoto holds the Gozan no Okuribi event in which gigantic shapes are created in fire on cleared areas of five mountains. The name “okuribi” means “send-off fire” as it’s meant to wish farewell to the spirits of ancestors who visited during Obon.

Having watched that video you may have spotted many instances of crowds gathering to either create the elaborate fires or simply watch them from afar. It’s a big draw, and last year some 28,000 people were said to have viewed the Gozan no Okuribi.

However, in the year of COVID-19 that just won’t do, and a cancellation was seriously considered for the first time since World War II. This is a decision not taken lightly by the organizers who consist of local families who have passed down this tradition throughout generations.

To make matters worse, no one can really say how long the effects of this pandemic will carry on for. The longer this tradition is pushed aside for the sake of social distancing, the more at risk of disappearing forever it becomes.

So, in order to keep the okuribi alive and also prevent large groups of people from congregating, the families behind it believe they have found an elegant solution: They’re going to make it suck.

I mean that in the best possibly way though. It’s actually quite clever, in that they are drastically reducing the number of fires in each of the five designs so that they are as underwhelming as possible while still being somewhat unique and, more importantly, still burning.

The centerpiece of the Gozan no Okuribi is the Daimonji, a kanji character for “big” which is lit first and consists of 75 separate bonfires.

This year, however, only six of those fires will be lit.

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A few minutes later the Myo and Ho kanji characters that express Buddhism ideology are lit, but this year will be reduced from 166 fires to two.

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Next up is the self-explanatory Funagata or “Boat Shape” which is getting knocked down to a single fire from it’s original 79.

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The Daimonji fire is so nice that they do it twice, but instead of the 53 fires that go into the Hidari Daimonji, there will now be one.

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Finally the Toriigata representing the gates in front of Shinto shrines usually has the most fires for a single shape at 108.

In 2020 though, it will only have two.

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“Festive” certainly isn’t the word I’d use for these new designs, but drastic times call for drastically reduced fires. Others in Japan also expressed their disappointment in the news, but also took the opportunity to remember its true meaning.

“It’s unavoidable…”
“I wonder if they’ll still broadcast these dots on TV.”
“I think they should do it as usual out of respect for the dead.”
“On the bright side it’s a good test of your imagination.”
“I thought I was reading a satirical news site at first.”
“It’s like looking at constellations.”
“People forget that it’s a ritual, not a spectacle. It’s more important that they carry on than make a show for the rest of us.”

The organizers also mentioned that honoring those who had succumbed to COVID-19 was a part of the motivation to carry on the tradition in a reduced form.

There is still a possibility that this might backfire and people will head out into the most popular lookout spots to get a picture of this rare configuration of fires anyway. But the organizers did a pretty good job at making these new arrangements look incredibly boring. So they might end up being effective at significantly cutting down on the lookie-loos who will opt for the more beautiful tofu version instead.

Source: Kyoto Shimbun, My Game News Flash
Images: YouTube/S.ENDO
Computer simulations ©SoraNews24
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