Wednesday, September 20, 2006

My New Favorite Local Festival

Japanese love fire. I'm quite smitten with Buddhism and was always sad to learn that through the ages all these marvelous temples kept burning down. I truly understand why now.

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!

okuri bi line

And they burn.

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.

Me too!


D.T. Kelly said...

That is cool! Who doesn't like playing with fire? ;)

Bk30 said...

I'm with d.t. today..all I can say is wow!

Pass The Torch said...

Pyromaniacs - my husband would fit in well;)

nancy said...

Something I'd definitely want to watch on TV, but probably not attend in real life. :)

Does anyone ever get hurt at an okuribi?

Kappa no He said...

Yea, my son's a fire nut as well and him and his grandpa just love it!

As far as getting hurt, I've yet to hear any ambulances. But I know that I've seen people get walloped with falling debris.

Bill Fullerton said...

So where do I sign up? Just reading that would be enough to give heart attacks to at least a score of US "safety experts."

Sounds great.

Bayou Bill

Anonymous said...

That is so cool. I love fire.

It's kinda like here where every Thanksgiving hundreds of people burn their houses down trying to deep fry turkeys. Only this is on purpose.

And blogger finally fixed the commenting issues. Woo.

Kappa no He said...

Bill F: I'm not a safety expert but sometimes even I get some serious palpatations when I see some of this stuff, like the guys who do the giant handheld fireworks and shoot each other with them.

Matt: I'm glad that got fixed! And when I first heard about people deep frying half frozen turkeys, usually inside their house, I wet my pants.

Talia Mana said...

Wow Guy Fawkes must be a blast LOL although I guess that isn't a Japanese ceremony

Do the Japanese believe that any of the spirits remain behind or are they convinced that the conflagration sends everyone away?

Interesting but I confess I'm not a big fan of fires - not good for the environment :-)

Kappa no He said...

That's a good question. I pretty much get the feeling they think they all make it back to the 'other side'. But I do know that you aren't allowed to kill bugs during obon, might be a relative, they say.

Yea, a whole lot of the older generation tend to burn everything! It drives me crazy. Oh, a little garbage that didn't get taken out on garbage day...pile it up, honey grab me the matches!

Marilyn said...

The Japanese ceremony sounds uh..safer...although I'm sure you can't roast as many marshmallows. ;)

Razib Ahmed said...

Thanks for writing about this ceremony. I never thought that Japanese people have this kind of celebration. I have read about Japan some but did not know about it.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Pyromania is always fun. That sounds like Fourth of July and Cajun Christmas bonfires all rolled into one!

Laurie said...

That looks so wild!