Photo/IllutrationFlames spread on Wakakusayama mountain in Nara at night on Jan. 27. Seen in the foreground is the five-story pagoda of Kofukuji temple. This is a composite of 19 photographs. (Ryo Kato)

NARA--On a frigid winter night, a massive fire engulfed a mountain here on Jan. 27, lighting up the darkness.

But there was no need for alarm, as the controlled blaze of the 342-meter-high Wakakusayama mountain in Nara is an annual tradition.

Many spectators enjoyed the dream-like scene with the mountain lit up in a sea of flames that slowly spread toward the summit.

The event started shortly after 6 p.m. with fireworks illuminating the night sky. Then, at the sound of trumpet shells and bugles, about 300 local volunteer firefighters ignited the grass on the mountain with torches. They had received the “God’s fire” for their torches from a large-scale “tondo” bonfire held at Kasuga Taisha shrine here.

The fire burned about 33 hectares of grass on the mountain.

Among the theories for the origin of the rite is that it started as a memorial service for the burial mound at the mountain summit. Another is that it originated in the Edo Period (1603-1867) to mediate a land dispute between two Nara temples.