Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sending Great-Great Granny Back Home

My absolute favorite part of summer is something called okuribi (Sending Fires). What happens is that in the middle of August family altars are decorated, family graves are visited, and little ceremonies are performed to call all the deceased ancestors back from Beyond for a visit. It's all fun and games until it's time to send those same relatives back home.

Some people float paper lanterns down the river. Not my town. We know it won't be that easy getting Great Grandpa Kintaro back to the nether world. The big guns are called out.

First, these giant bamboo-like brooms are built. Here's a little instruction on how that is done:

They are stuffed with straw and (what else?) fireworks--mostly bottle rockets. Next, they are stuck into beach in a nice long line. (Mount Fuji is back there but you can't quite see it.)

This year's excitement was ratcheted up a notch because certain kids were chosen to actually do the honors and light those puppies on fire.

Lighting an okuribi consists of holding a ball of fire on a rope... (That's J in the light blue shirt; yep, he got to participate while I stood behind a rope.)

...and then swinging it around and around at full speed...

..until you gather enough momentum to wing it up and hopefully into the center of that monstrous up-turned broom (and not onto the head of the guy standing directly on the other side of the okuribi.)

It takes a few tries and it's all very exciting with the crowd cheering and great balls of fire exploding as they hit the ground or the side of the broom and bounce off in a shower of sparks and flame.

Here's one that has been successfully lit.

Now as if that isn't breathtaking enough, after these massive, exploding, easily-toppling okuribis have been ignited what do the men in charge do?

Whey, they sit the children down right underneath them to relish in their handiwork, they do.

Actually, no one was hurt or even singed, and there were firemen nearby, just in case. Occasionally when one does fall an errant bottle rocket zips into the crowd of bystanders but mostly it's met with a bunch of screams and nervous laughter afterwards.

This year was also different because while all this was going on there were about two dozen monks behind us chanting sutras in that deep-voiced drone that is so intoxicating and oddly sexy. All the ancestors could very happily ride the sparks and smoke back to paradise.

Here's one just about ready to collapse.

Here's some more spinning/throwing fun.

And here's a beagle who thinks he's a cat and sleeping on the top of a couch all stretched out which has nothing to do with okuribi but was funny at the time.


Virginia Lee said...

Okay, I LOVE this post. Fascinating and EGAD! I'm so glad no children were harmed in the performance of this ceremony! And WOW! Look at how tall J is now! Finally, HEE! I do adore your dawg. I shall show this to Miss M tomorrow and Cha will make her laugh as always. xoxoxo

Benjamin Solah said...

This looks way cool, with the fire and bursts of flames and such.

Pat said...

Again, something you'd never find in the U.S. OSHA or the Department of Home Defense or some such agency would be all over it. And the swarms of lawyers? Oy vey.

That Cha is adorable. Makes me want a dog...and I'm a cat person!

Kappa no He said...

Virginia and Pat, I really like that we can do things like this without any hassle. There are so many neat festivals that would never go down in the States without someone being sued of something.

And Cha was totally in cat mode that day. I came out of the shower to find him hanging out in the litter box. Some sort of identity crisis he's going through.

Ben, I have a video I need to get on here. When the fire makes it down to the big bamboo part they explode with this incredible do-I-still-have-my-all-my-limbs? sounds.

Mary Witzl said...

I've heard about this particular O-bon ritual and feel a certain terror -- and a desire to see it. Maybe some day we'll be back in Japan and can go and see this with you!

We had a cat who thought he was a dog. I know what your guy is going through. Still, I'd have no problems at all about a dog who knew how to bury his poo...

Our eldest is due back from Tokyo today. Fingers crossed that she makes it okay and doesn't decide to stay over and miss university!

Hilary said...

Wow.. this is cool. You got some great photos of a very interesting event. So nice that your boy got to take part in it.. and that there were no singing incidents. And just look at that puppy face! :)

Frank Baron said...

Fascinating! The pics put me in mind (a little bit) of The Burning Man ceremonies.

I love the concept of inviting our ancestors to return for a visit, especially since you can send them back after a reasonable length of time. And it's darn fun to boot! :)

Kappa no He said...

Mary, I bet you guys are so thrilled to have her home. She got out just in time, there's a huge typhoon heading this (mostly Tokyo's) way.

If you ever come back we'd love to show you around out own little inaka. Fire ceremonies and all!

Hilary, I took about a dozen pictures. If I were to put them up consecutively you could see that face go from cute to..leave. me. alone. already!

Frank. have you been to Burning Man? I didn't even know about that phenomenon until recently. I'm intrigued.

Oh, and another thing I forgot to mention: you aren't allowed to kill any bugs during the days of obon. I learned the hard way years ago when I slapped a mosquito and was met with shrieks of horror, "That could have been Grandma Tora!!"