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.