Indeed, the Daimonji festival took place on Saturday evening, despite all the rain. A friend of mine told me that it was a religious ceremony, nothing geared towards tourists, so they would try to do it at the designated day no matter what.
It rained heavily on Saturday, with brief stops in between, and all day I was unsure whether the daimonji would take place. However, the rain stopped at around 6 pm, and when it got dark about an hour later, you could make out people – or rather, their flashlights – on Mt. Daimonji, where the largest and the first of the five fires is lit.
I went to a friend of mine who lives farther North in Kyoto and who had arranged to go to the roof of a three storey building in his neighborhood. From there, four of the five fires could be seen, although not all picture perfect: the hidari-dai or “left dai” fire could not be seen in its full glory, but only as a single thin strip of fires. Here are photos of the three fires – from right to left on the mountains, in order of their being lit – that are more or less recognisable: The dai on Mt. Daimonji, which simply means “big”; the two signs myo-ho, part of a Buddhist sutra; and my favourite one, the fune, the boat-shaped fire.Watching the fires being lit one after the other to guide home the ancestral spirits was once again a wonderful, touching experience. The whole display only took about half an hour, and then I walked home, meandering through town in the dry, cool evening.
There is only one of the daimonji fires I have not seen yet: the big torii gate on Arashiyama. Maybe I will try to go there next year.