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A Month Of Fire

In Aso, the whole month of March is dedicated to celebrating fire in various ways. It is a traditional practice to light one's field, full of the dried out stalks and chaff left over from last year's harvest, on fire. This not only provides entertainment, but it also looks cool and serves to fertilize the earth.

Well, if you have never been to Aso, then you have never seen the tall, super-fast growing ocean of grass that ripples in the summer breeze. This grass, aside from bamboo, is the fastest growing grass that I know of. Once late Spring rolls around, the farmers will let their cows loose in the stuff, and they don't have to worry about feeding them after that point. In the Fall, the tractors will come out and harvest great wheels of dried grass, much like hay is harvested in other rural areas for fodder. Despite all of this consumption, much grass is left untouched.

A typical hill in Ubuyama-mura, covered in lots of dry grass.

So now comes the fire part. In order to clear way for the new grass, massive areas of grassland are set ablaze every year. From a distance, you can see a great swath of bright orange flames consuming the dried grass, climbing up the mountain with surprising speed. Much ash has been falling from the smoky skies as of late.

A couple of weekends ago in Aso town, there was a famous fire festival where they burned huge kanji into the mountain at night time. I wasn't there because I went to Kuju instead, and I am glad. People who went told me that the cold sapped all of the fun out of the experience. However, the best festival is coming up: the fire swinging festival is tomorrow. Last year, I saw what appeared to be a man being immolated by flames unintentionally, as a fireball that had burned through the straw rope tether shot towards him as if by the hands of Ryu. The burning mass of straw exploded on his mid-section and swirled around him, but he was unhurt. So of course this year I will once again brave this crazy spectacle and try and take some good pictures of people swinging fire around without any regard for anyone else's safety. If you are ever in Kumamoto during mid-March, this festival is not to be missed at any cost!

Comments (6)

Scuba Steve:

I think that it's funny that the Japanese can plan and even celebrate their Chaparral. I find it amazing that our Califorian mountains burn every year, (devastatingly every decade or so), to the tune of the Santa Ana Winds. Yet, every year, we act shocked and suprised that our mountains are burning. The Japanese don't do everything right, but there are just some things that they really kick ass at.


I wonder what happens to the wild animals during those fires? Are there any tanuki, foxes, rabbits, birds, etc? Or is this grazing land?


The burn is controlled, and I'm sure that the smart woodland creatures have noticed that the big bad fire comes once every year at about the same time, and so they flee into the safety of the crops of pine. Much preparation goes into the burns such as the drawing of firelines, closing of roads, and it usually happens under the supervision of the fire department.

However, I took this picture in my town while driving home from work. Everyone burns their own lands, and although I haven't heard of one of these getting out of control, I am sure that it happens once in a while. Kinda wish that I had my own field to burn...

What about the air pollution? The whole country must look like San Bernadino then...


Yeah, but the strong winds blow all of the stuff away and there is not inversion layer effect pushing the crap into the valleys, so the brown sky disperses rather quickly.


Win-win: BBQ Bambi and blow smoke at the Norks.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 17, 2004 1:24 PM.

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