Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fire is Photogenic

First, one shot of our local fireworks festival at the port. Did you know they have fireworks shaped like smiley faces, fish, cats, and crabs? Of course, I didn't get any good photos of those.

However, arguably my most favorite of local festivals is called okuribi (sending-off fires). During obon spirits of deceased relatives make there way back into households all across Japan. In order to assure they arrive to the correct house there is something called mukaebi (welcoming fires). At the start of obon you can find people everywhere standing outside their front gates at dusk stoking tiny fires inside fry pans. This, it is believed, will bring home the loved one, who when he/she arrives will find his/her altar decorated fancy-like with flowers and food, not to mention all the visitors that pay visits during this time.

Like any house guest, though, you don't want them sticking around too long. So at the end of obon everyone goes to great lengths to send their dear ancestor back to the other side. One way is by lighting floating paper lanterns and releasing them down a river. This you've probably seen on TV. I think I learned about it from Karate Kid 2. That is all nice and good. But after I pass I'm not leaving unless they send me home via okuribi.

Imagine an up side down broom. Imagine it big. Then imagine fifteen of them implanted up and down the beach. Next you have groups of men drinking beer, starting small bonfires and waiting until it gets sufficiently dark (and they sufficiently drunk). Once night falls someone up the coast launches some fireworks as a sign to say, Go! The men then light these ropes, start twirling them real fast and then wing them into the air. It's hilarious because most of the time they fly off in some strange direction and hit someone else. Well, when it's not a bystander it's hilarious. All these drunk guys screaming and running around. After thirty minutes to an hour a few land in or on the giant broom and it starts to burn. And boy does it burn. It's been pre-loaded with kerosene and bottle rockets.

Here's a picture the beginning of the festivities.

Here after the fire has begun to burn a little.

The audience is cheering, the men are calling out to each other, and then there's the unexpected excitement of a rogue bottle rocket shooting out sideways from the blaze and catching someone in the eye.

This guy down here is yelling for all the men to grab the ropes. There are four ropes holding the thing tight. This is when it gets fun.

They begin to shake them causing loads of ash, sparks, and flaming debris to rain upon us all. It is also very important they don't let the thing fall the wrong way as the bystanders are super close and no one has even attempted to tell us to stay back.

Here is a shot of one of the thing fixing to go down. We had one start to lean the wrong way and boy to see those guys sweat and scream and try and bring it back. It's so heavy that when it does go down at least two lines of men get pulled across the rocks. Painful.

Okay, if I do this right, there may just be a little video.


Frank Baron said...

Very nifty shots and the vid turned out well.

I love the concept of inviting one's ancestors back for a visit (and then ushering them out the door again).

Kappa no He said...

Frank: Thanks, and the good thing is that if those ancestors get testy you can just send them home early.

Yesterday I met a friend who said that they did a simple obon this year. They didn't light Welcoming Fires or Sending Away Fires. Then she started giggling uncontrollable and said, "Ahh, his soul is probably still wandering around out there somewhere."

Jim Melvin said...

I found this entire item fascinating! I have been to Cambodia once (I know this is a far piece from Japan, both in culture and location) and have three adopted Cambodian daughters. My wife has been to several places in Asia and has been a (western Caucasian) Buddhist for twenty years. Anyway, much thanks for visiting my blog and I'll be coming to yours more often.

Kappa no He said...

Jim: Thank You! I'd love to visit Cambodia one day. I'm also a huge proponent of Buddhism too. Cool.

Jim Melvin said...

I'm a Buddhist and adore the philosophical aspects and especially the mindfulness meditation. But I'm weak on chanting and rituals.

Kappa no He said...

There are so many flavors of Buddhism too. The more ritualistic, flashy Tibetan variety all the way to the quiet, very sitting oriented Soto Zen. I find that while I am attracted to both, chanting and ritual is only cool if I'm sitting in a temple listening to a dozen or so deep male (or female) voices, wooden drums, bells and gongs. Alone it looses something. The philosophy is awesome though, huh?

Anonymous said...

Wow, you guys are savages out there in the inaka. Not like us decent, civilized fold in Shizuoka :P

Jim Melvin said...

As you well know, the Buddha was a spiritual genius. Of all the world's religions, it is the one that touched my heart. The philosophies of the Budda drive my fantasy series, although I cannot rightfully call it a Buddhist work because it contains graphic violence and sexual situations.

You're right about the many flavors of Buddhism. I am a Buddhist in the Theravada tradition. Westerners such as myself are most attracted to Buddhism by the teaching of meditation. I've been on quite a few meditation retreats and sat with a prominent (Sri Lankan) monk, but again my wife has far surpassed me in this regard.

Anonymous said...

No. Drunk guys just like to play with fire. Don't read too much into it.
momo had a great time in Japan. I'm sorry you two couldn't get together.
More later.

Talia Mana said...

Do you ever leave home without your camera LOL? I have to remember to put mine in the car - who knows maybe I'll snap something as interesting as this.

I can not believe they can make fireworks look like animals.

I thought your first picture looked like sea anenomes

ugh mucked the captcha. second time lucky...

Craig and Lotta said...

Yes, Karate Kid 2, the source of almost all of my knoledge of anything east of Iowa for about 10 years.

Kappa no He said...

Jim: Yes, you know it! Buddhism really is a lifetime study. And a great trip too!

Anon: I don't know...I was recently in a bar in Shizuoka that had not a lick of air conditioning. (^0-)/

Talia: Ha ha, I try not too! I definitely have to find a good picture of one of those crab-looking ones.

Craig and Lotta: Are you guys home now? Karate Kid is wear I learned to do Bon Odori and trim bonsai trees.