Friday, August 17, 2007

Obon Holiday

Last night marked the end of the Bon holiday here in Japan. Obon is one of the two major holidays here in Japan. It is the holiday where people pay respect to their ancestors. There are special rituals that are performed and rites that are followed. It is a very special holiday for the veneration of the dead. Most Japanese will travel to their hometown to be with family and to tend the graves of their ancestors, offer special offerings to the dead, and to pay their respects. Obon and New Years are the two times a year that travel in Japan peaks, trains become very full, hotels sell out, and traveling can be difficult.

This holiday was also one that we were aware of before we came here to Japan. We had watched a documentary on PBS about Japan that highlighted the Obon celebration in Kyoto. After seeing that program we were determined to see the sights for our selves. We did our research as to where to go to see the sights that we wanted to see. And we set off to a whole new part of town. Our destination this time was a bridge over the Hozu River. On the river that evening would be placed lanterns that are inscribed with the name of a family member that has passed on. The light in the lantern is supposed to guide the soul of the deceased back to the land of the dead. The lantern floats down the river and guides the spirit back to its resting place.

We were also there to see the fire on the mountain. On the side of six mountains around Kyoto there are huge bonfires that are lit. The fires take the shape of different designs. We were in a location to see the fire that takes the form of a tori gate. There are others as well, two are the kanji for big, one looks like a ship, and there are two that together spell out the words for Buddhist law. I originally wanted to see one of the mountains that said big, but there was not enough time to go everywhere in one night. And we were able to see the tori gate fire from the same place as the lanterns.

We were very excited to see this. What we were not excited about were the crowds of people who were also very excited to see the event. Now for a family who lead a fairly boring life in America crowds used to be a big deal for us. We would time shopping to avoid crowds. And shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, well we never even thought about it. I must admit that we are doing much better at dealing with crowds of people, because well we have to. Everywhere we go and everything that we do we basically deal with crowds. But for some reason the crowd last night seemed to be offensive. I know that offensive might be too harsh a word but last night was very trying of my patience. I was after some nice pictures of the lantern that we would be able to share with you. And it seemed that every time I got a good shot framed up a person would step right into my shot. At one point I had focused in on the tori gate that was burning on the mountain and an old woman stood up right in front of my lens completely blocking my shot. She even ignored all of my excuse mes, sumimasens, and gruff clearing of my throat noises that I made. I had to find a new vantage point from which to shoot.

All in all, I must admit that we were a little let down. We were expecting more from this one. It was nice to see, and it will be something that I hope that I never forget, but still it was a bit of a let down. Just a tiny bit disappointment. I did manage to get a few beautiful shots of the lanterns, and one or two of the fire on the side of the mountain. But the actual holiday did not really live up to all the hype.


Ryan said...

At Michigan Tech they also during a midwinter celebration lit tourches, and then they skied down hill with them.

Kevin Myers said...

That sounds a bit more like Sagicho. Sagicho is a local festival involving fire and copious amounts of alcohol. They spend months building huge floats. Then the town gets rip-roaring drunk and then they burn the floats.