Japanese love fire.
My new favorite local festival is just more proof. It's called okuribi, or the fire that sends one away. (I'm sure there is a better translation but I'm having a beer and want to get this post up quick).
Obon is a sort of a festival for the dead, a time in mid August when all the spirits of everyone's ancestors come back to this world to hang out for a while. The household shrines are decorated all fancy like and incense is burned, prayers said. Before Obon starts people build little fires (usually in fry pans) at the front of their house to 'call' their relatives home.
That's all fine and dandy.
But after Obon ya gotta send all those souls back to where they came. And that is where you have festivals with paper lanterns floating down rivers and what not.
Eh, paper lanterns down rivers is wimp stuff.
Here the dead get sent back in style!
First, they make these enormous straw and bamboo structures (see picture below) and stake them out all up and down the beach. Inside are stuffed all sorts of fireworks btw. You learn that later when you're running for your life from a stray bottle rocket.
They have dozens of these broom stick thingys all along the shore and everyone gathers and waits. When it gets dark they start lighting fires beside each broom stick thing. Then the fun begins. People grab these ropes that have tied to their ends kerosine soaked towels and they dip them into the fires. Next, they begin to spin them around and around, faster and faster until they feel the moment is right and they hurl them at the enormous broom. At first there is a lot of misses and the crowd on the other side of the broom flees or simply moves aside as not to get hit by the large fire ball. This is exciting enough for me.
But it gets darker and darker and everyone is working themselves into a frenzy trying to land one of those kerosine soaked balls into the upended part of the broom. Chants, calling, screams of encouragement. Quite a bit of drunken laughter.
And it happens!
And they blaze and rain down sparks and flames and explode and eventually set off the fireworks that have been so carefully tucked into their centers. It's pandemonium!
And I'm thinking what else could possible happen? When suddenly people begin to jump on those holding ropes to shake the fire down. It's friggin hot! I smell burnt hair. Is it mine?
There are no lines to stand behind, no one saying this dangerous stay back, everyone there is totally crazed in the moment hooting and hollarin' with total abandon.