Sunday, July 03, 2005

Summer is here: Part II

Summer Festivals:

One of the major summer festival celebrations focus on Obon - an annual Buddhist ritual that commemorates family ancestors. Traditional beliefs are that our ancestor’s spirits are released from a kind of purgatory. They travel to our world to visit their relatives before they make their way to the final destination. As the traditional story goes, a disciple of Buddha saw his deceased mother suffering in the “world of hungry ghosts.” When he tries to give her a bowl of rice, the food turns to burnt charcoal and cannot be eaten. The disciple goes to Buddha and tells him what happened. Buddha then explains to the disciple that his mother had been hot-tempered and greedy in her past life and did not believe in retribution for her behavior. This is why she suffers in the world of hungry ghosts. The disciple asks Buddha if there is anything that he can do to free his mother. Buddha tells him to make an offering to all holy monks on the last day of their summer retreat – a time when many of them will have attained enlightenment. Only these monks, united in the effort can free his mother from suffering. The disciple makes his offerings as Buddha instructs and his mother is freed. The disciple “dances for joy.”

Every region in Japan has its own adaption to the story/history behind their summer festivities, but they all tend to include lanterns/fire (to guide the spirits), food offerings (as Buddha instructed his disciple) either at home or in temples and dancing. I’m not sure whether theme dancing comes from the story of the disciple or from the idea of giving comfort to the spirits. Nevertheless, the Obon season of festivals means lots of dancing and lots of food.

Hanagasa Matsuri (Early August): Kitty prepares to perform the Hanagasa Odori (flower hat dance). She wears a colorful happi coat and holds a big, round hat decorated with, of course, flowers. The motions of the dance are based on the movements of the old rice farmers who harvested their crops by hand.



Aomori Nebuta (mid-August): Nebutas are giant, washi paper laterns that are usually in the shape of legendary characters from myths and history. Illuminated from the inside, these giant laterns are quite a sight as they parade down the city streets at night. This festival’s origins are thought to come from a famous samurai who conquered his enemies by frightening them with these nebutas. While Kitty would love to see herself up there with the great samurai for now she’ll have to be satisfied as a member of the “haneto” – costumed dancers that accompany each of the floats. She’ll have to keep up with the taiko drummers and flutes!


NEBUTA (2005)

I believe that Kitty is trying to be one of the elaborate hats (goldfish-style) that the haneto wear in the parades

Kochi Yosakoi (mid August): Kitty is going to get tired because she has to keep dancing. This time she picks up her "narukos" (clappers that were originally used by farm workers to scare birds away from crops) and dons her happi coat. Although it occurs during the bon period, the festival originally began to encourage the morale and economy of Kochi following WWII. This may be why this particular festival’s dance music isn’t restricted to traditional Japanese interpretation. Competing dance “teams” have been putting their own spin on the traditional “Yokaskoi Bushi” with rock, hip-hop, jazz and samba interpretations. Kitty doesn’t care. She’ll be refueling soon at the food stalls.

Some "real" Hello Kitty narukos from a YahooJapan auction



Gujo Hachiman – Gujo odori (July - September): For the people of Gujo Hachimen, dancing festivities aren’t isolated just to obon. The Gujo Odori festival runs from July through early September. The festival was begun over 400 years ago by its feudal lord Endo Yoshitaka. He wanted all townspeople to come get together and mix, regardless of social positions. The Obon odori is said to be the highpoint of this festival. In mid-August, Kitty will join up 100,000 people who have come to this city to dance from 8PM to 4AM.

Dancing isn’t all there is in this city. Kitty loves fish, but in Gujo Hachiman, fish and summer can mean only one thing: Aiyu! She loves to eat these sweet tasting fresh water fishies – and there’s plenty of fresh water here as well. Several rivers and freshwater springs flow through the center of town. The most famous of these springs, the Sougisui is said to be the purest water in all of Japan.



Kyoto Daimonji bonfire festival - Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (August 16th): On August 16th, five huge bonfires are lit on the surrounding mountains of Kyoto. The bonfires are in the shape the Chinese characters “Myoho” (the supreme law of Buddha), "Funagata" (the shape of a ship), “Hidari” (left) “Dai” (large) and “Toriigata” (the shrine archway) The Daimonji Gozan Okuribi festival signals the end of “Obon”. In Kyoto, the bonfires are lit to guide the souls of the departed.




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