fireworks festivals(Japanese version only):

summer festivals: (Japanese version only)

Thursday, August 25, 2011


paper lanterns at Jizo-bon

Jizo-bon(地蔵盆) is an festival held to celebrate Jizo(地蔵, Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit) on August 24th in Kansai Region.
Jizo is also regarded as the guardian of children, so the festival is dominated by children. The festival is prevalent in Kansai Region including Kyoto and Osaka, but it's unfamiliar to me living in Kanto Region.

A Jizo statue  enshrined in a small shrine

Worshipers cleanse away, dress a Jizo statue and make offerings of food and flowers to him. Confections of the offerings are handed out to children. They enjoy playing games and holding a lottery and performing the Bon dance. It's the largest event in summer vacation for children.
(Refer to Jizou-bon about Jizo)

Jizo statues (This picture  has nothing to do with the content)

Ancient people associated Jizou with a belief in a travelers' guardian deity, so its statues are located to hornor it by roadsides around Japan.
Six Jizo statues along the road in an area near Sakae Village in Nagano Prefecture became hot topics this year.

The quake(M6.7) with a seismic intensity of a upper 6 on the Japanese scale of seven struck the village at 3:59 a.m.(Japan time) on March 12th. Shortly after the quake, two quakes of level 6 on the Japanese scale hit the village at 4:31 a.m. and at 5:42 a.m. on the same day.

No building collapsed following the first quake. After villagers evacuated their homes, 33 houses were completely destroyed by the second and third quakes. Many houses, roads, riverside areas and farmland were also damaged. No one died of the quakes on the day.

In April, the six of the seven Jizo statues in Nishiotaki area next to Sakae Village were found facing in the direction of the village. The seven statues were buried up to their necks in snow and  the six of them were not fixed to the foundation stones on March 12th.  So they are thought to have swivelled around to face in the direction of the village due to vibration of the quakes.
Some people said that the six Jizo looked in the village's direction with concern for the villagers.

Koganji Temple(高岩寺) in Sugamo, Tokyo is commonly known as "Togenuki Jizo(とげぬき地蔵)" which means "jizo who removes spines." Its name derives from a legend.
Mainly elderly people came to go to the temple to pray for cure of disease. the principal Jizou image housed at the temple is not shown to the public. Instead, the image of the Kannon bodhisattva called Arai Kannnon(洗い観音) attracts worshippers. It is believed that Kannon can heal the body's ills by washing the same part of Kannon's body as the affected part of the body.

A shopping street has flourished as an approach to the temple. Now the street is called as "Harajuku for elderly women."The street is filled with active seniors.  Each side of the street is lined with old-fashioned and senior-friendly shops including clothing stores, coffee shops, specialty shops and cafes featuring Japanese-style sweets.

The McDonald's outlet in the shopping street used to provide senior-friendly information on the menus. English words on McDonald's menu are converted into katakana in a way that maintains a very similar pronunciation. Katakana is the Japanese phonetic alphabet. Many elderly people have no idea what the dishes on the menu look like because they are not good at English and are unfamiliar with fast-food meals. Now the information are not provided, but the outlet is filled with elderly people.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gozan no Okuribi and send-off ceremonies

Temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius continued in many areas. I could hardly sleep night before last. It got cool after a thunderstorm yesterday. It's cool today.

The Bon period varies in different areas. Many areas hold the Bon Festival around August 13th to 16th, some areas around July 15th according to the Gregorian calendar, some areas around the 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar.

On the night of the 16th, many people light a farewell bonfire to see our ancestors off.
Six giant bonfires named Gozan no Okuribi(五山の送り火) are lit on the six mountains surrounding the city in Kyoto. The five bonfires have the shapes of two "大" characters, "妙" character, "法" character, boat form and shrine gate form. "妙" and "法" are regarded as a set. The origin of Gozan no Okuribi is uncertain. The bonfires are said to have become popular as an annual event between the 15th or 17th century.
the red moon and a bonfire

Gozan no Okuribi attracted controversy in the country for the pine firewoods in Takatamatsubara(高田松原) this year.
The 70,000 pine trees in Takatamatsubara(高田松原) in Iwate Prefecture were swept up by the tsunami on March 11th, and one of them was left alone. The organizers of Gozan no Okuribi planned to burn the pine sticks on which the tsunami victims wrote their wishes. The pine sticks didin't have bark. Some people protested their plan for fear of radiation contamination although raidoactive materials were not detected in the pine sticks. The organizers aborted the plan, but their decision triggered a national outcry.
The organizers replanned to burn the firewoods made from another pine logs in Takatamatsubara. However, radioactive caesium was detected in the bark of the firewoods. Their plan was aborted again.

Wooden tags made from pine logs in Takatamatsubara are sold to support people in tsunami-hit areas at Zenko-ji Temple(善光寺) in Nagano Prefecture. Those tags don't have bark.
Narita-san Shinsho-ji Temple(成田山新勝寺) in Chiba Prefecture plans to burn the peeled pine logs from Takatamatsubara at a rite of cedar-stick burning to grant people's wishes.
The tsunami victims are badly affected and worry about causing troubles for these temples.
Many people seem to think that the organizers should have burned the peeled pine sticks.

I sent off my ancestors by making a bonfire.

Toro-nagashi in Hyogo Prefecture

Toro-nagashi(灯籠流し) is the last event of the Bon festival held in many areas. People float paper lanterns down the river or the sea to send off the spirit of their ancestors.  Miyazu Toro-nagashi(宮津灯籠流し) on August 16th in Kyoto has 400 years of history.

2 photos by 神戸観光壁紙写真集

Shoro-nagashi(精霊流し) held on the 15th in Nagasaki is a ritual that the bereaved carry the spirit of the dead with a boat called Shoro-bune(精霊船) or a thatched mat to the terminal point while setting off firecrackers.


2 photos by artworks
cemetery in Nagasaki
 At the first Bon Festival following the death of a family member, the bereaved carry the boat decorated with Bon lanterns and artificial flowers. From the second festival, the bereaved carry a thatched mat on which offerings of flowers and fruits are placed. Nagasaki has a historically close relationship with China, so it has a custom to set off firecrackers at events. People in Nagasaki let off fireworks in the cemetery during the Bon Period.

The boats used to be floated down the sea, but they are carried to the terminal point by the sea and are scrapped there now. The boat with the spirits of the tsunami victims was carried by the survivors staying in Nagasaki this year.

Funekko Nagashi(舟っこ流し) in Morioka City of Iwate Prefecture is similar to Shoro-nagashi. it' also a Bon event to send off the spirits of the ancestors. People set fire to a boat decorated with lanterns and offerings and float the boat down the Kitakami River. The event dates back roughly 240 years and 160 years, when the daughter of the Nanbu Domain's lord performed Toro-nagashi and when a boat carrying a courtesan's spirit tablet and offerings was floated down the Kitakami River to comfort the spirit of the courtesan who drowned in the river. After that, the event came to be popular among people.                                                                                                       

Funekko Nagashi

Most of the graves destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th have still not been restored to their former condition. Their restoration has received a low priority. Some builders tried to restore them before the Bon Festival, but many of them remain destroyed. Survivors visited their destroyed ancestral graves and made offerings of flowers and incense. In tsunami-hit areas, most of gravestones and the ashes of the deceased were swept up. Some survivors planted wooden grave tablets in the grounds of their cemeteries. Everybody lost someone there.
People who had lived in the areas designated as the evacuation zone in Fukushima can't visit their family graves.

It is said that there are more than 1,000 local entertainments in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. During the Bon period, some of them were perfromed with help from some cultural organizations although most of their dance gear and dance outfits were swept up by the tsunami.


Both Kenbai(剣舞) dances in Tohoku Region and Jangara Nenbutsu Odori(じゃんがら念仏踊り) dances in Iwaki City of Fukushima Prefecture have almost the same roots with the Bon dance. Both dances have several variations in area and are performed to lively music.
Both dance members perform at the houses where the bereaved hold the first Bon Festival following the death of a family member.


Kenbai(剣舞) literally mean sword dance. The Kenbai dancers perform wearing a demon's mask or no mask. Girls dance without a mask in some areas.  Kenbai dancers also perform at temples. This year, they also did at temporary houses.

Nenbutsu means a Buddhist chant. The origin of the word "Jangara" is uncertain.
Jangara dancers also did at temples and on the sites where houses stood until March 11th in front of the survivors this year.

During the Bon period, The Deer Dance (鹿踊, Shishi Odori) was also performed. Its origin is uncertain. The dance is well known for Kenji Miyazawa's fairy story titled "The first deer dance" or "Shishiodori no Hajimari."
deer dance in Ishinomaki(石巻)


deer dance in Tono(遠野)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Awa Dance Festival

The anniversary day to mark the end of the Pacific War is on August 15th when Japan made an unconditional surrender. The annual Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead is held on this day.

Many people already started to return home from their hometowns or their trips.

The Awa Dance Festival(阿波踊り) was held from August 12th to 15th in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku Region.

(Odoru aho ni miru aho, onaji aho nara odoranya son son)
"Dancing fools and watching fools. We are the same fools, so it's better to dance!"

This well-known phrase is chanted during the dance festival. True to the phrase, people in Tokushima perform the Awa Dance. Tourists enjoy a dance parade by the selected dance teams called ren(連). Tourists can dance as a member of Niwaka-ren(にわか連).

The men's dance

The men's dance

The women's dance

Children usually dance the men's dance.

In recent years, adult women dance both the men's and the women's dance.

According to one popular theory, the awa dance has originated as the dance people performed when the lord of the Tokushima Domain gave a feast in celebration of the fall of the Tokushima Castle in the end of the sixteenth century. Some say the dance of the time comes from the original form of the Bon dance.

The Bon dance is said to have started when people danced in delight along to the Buddhist chants because it rained after doing a ritual for rain. Bon dances around the country were originally performed to send off the spirits of ancestors, but they have changed into local festivals for entertainment.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the Bon Festival started

I heard cicadas churring until midnight yesterday. Today, I heard some crickets singing in the evening for the first time this year.

The annual Bon Festival takes place from August 13th to the 16th. The souls of the dead are believed to return to their families during the festival.

On the 13th, I visited the family grave with my family. We cleaned it, offered flowers and burned incense as an annual event. After returning home, I prepared a special altar called shoryo-dana(精霊棚) and put together Bon Festival lanterns that the spirits of ancestors use as landmarks to find their ways home. (Refer to the Bon Festival about shouryou-dana and Bon Festival lanterns)

On the evening, we light a bonfire using dried hemp stems outside our homes to guide our ancestors.
At the first Bon Festival following the death of a family member, the family hang an unpatterned white lantern outside. Because the member who returns home as a spirit for the first time may lose his way.

A man is still living in his house damaged by the tsunami. His son was engulfed by tsunami. He asked local government not to scrap his house until the Bon Festival ends.  The tsunami-hit areas in Tohoku Region were completely changed.  He thought his son can't return to him without his house.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bon vacation

Yesterday was a blistering hot day. It's still boiling hot. It's like I'm taking a hot sauna all day. Temperatures have been around 35 degrees Celsius even in tsunami-hit areas. Evacuation centers and temporary houses are extremely hot.

Crape myrtle(百日紅, sarusuberi) are in full bloom even in the extremely hot season. Saru-suberi literally means "monkey slip." Because even monkeys can't climb the tree due to smoothness of its bark. Actually, monkeys can do it.

LIGHT UP NIPPON successfully ended. Children were delighted. Adults recalled last summer and thought of their deceased family members.
The oldest fireworks festival was held along the Sumida River in 1733 as part of a ceremony to pray for the spirits of the victims of the great famine in 1732 and to drive away the evil disease.

Many people will have Bon vacation starting tomorrow. Many people started to go back to their hometowns or go on trips today. So transportation facilities are extremely crowded. The roads and trains bound forTohoku Region are packed with many of people from Tohoku.

Twenty-six years have passed since Japan Airlines Flight 123 with 524 people on board from Haneda to Itami crashed into Osutaka Ridge in Gunma Prefecture at 6:56 p.m. on August 12th, 1985.
On the evening of the 11th, the bereaved attended a ceremony called Toro-nagashi(灯籠流し) was held. They floated paper lanterns down a river. In the early morning of the 12th, they climbed the Osutaka Ridge to comfort the spirits of the victims.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Five months and LIGHT UP NIPPON

Five months have passed since the quake and tsunami in Tohoku Region.

Many people are still searching for their family members.
As of August 10, 15,689 people died, 4,744 are missing and about 32,823 are living in evacuation centers such as schools, community centers and hotels.

LIGHT UP NIPPON will be held at around 7 p.m., Japan time, on August 11th in 10 cities of tsunami-hit areas in Tohoku Region.

Live on the Net
Sendai City in Miyagi
Yamada-machi in Iwate
Otshchi-cho in Iwate
Kamaishi City in Iwate
Kesennuma City in Miyagi
Tagajo City in Miyagi
Minamisoma City in Fukushima
Aidumisato-machi in Fukushima
Iwaki City in Fukushima

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Morning Glory and Tanabata

August 8th was the first day of fall(立秋) according to the traditional East Asian lunisolar calendar.

Temperatures have been above 35 degrees Celsius in many parts of the country. Many people have been rushed to hospitals with heat stroke. It's boiling hot and humid. I can't sleep well.

The rate of daily electricity use reached 97 percent in the areas supplied with electricity by Tohoku Electric Power Company on August 5th. Because 28 hydroelectric power plants within the jurisdiction of the company stopped due to last month's heavy rain. Tokyo Electric Power Company and Hokkaido Electric Power Company accommodate the company with electricity.

The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Victims Memorial Peace Prayer Ceremony was held on August 9th. The mayor of Nagasaki indicated his intention to aim to abandon nuclear power generation for the first time.

August 6th corresponds to the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar this year.
Morning glory is "asagao" in Japanese and asagao(朝顔) means "morning beauty."

Morning glory is also known as Kengyuka(牽牛花). Kengyu(牽牛) literally means towing a cow. It also means the Cowherd (Altair) in the Tanabata legend. Some theories explains how it came to be its name.

One theory holds that morning glory seeds were highly prized as Chinese herbal medicines, so they are equal to a cow in value. Another theory is morning glories bloom around Tanabata, the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar.

Morning glories are blooming here and there. The Iriya Morning Glory Fair in July was cancelled due to the Great East Japan Earthquake this year.

There is a famous episode about morning glory.
Sen no Rikyu(千利休) who was a master of the tea ceremony was growing morning glories that were rare in those days. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the power of the day, asked Rikyu to view them after having heard rumors of them. Rikyu invited Hideyoshi for a tea ceremony at his residence.

However, there was no morning glory in Rikyu's garden. When entering the tea-ceremony room, Hideyoshi saw just one morning glory being placed in a vase in an alcove. Only one morning glory drove its beauty home to Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi praised Rikyu.

荒海や佐渡によこたふ天の河  松尾芭蕉
A-ra-u-mi-ya Sa-do-ni-yo-ko-ta-u A-ma-no-ga-wa

"Turbulent the sea—across to Sado stretches the Milky Way," written by Matsuo Basho and translated by Donald Lawrence Keene.

The dark and furious sea is before his eyes. He finds the silhouette of Sado Island. When he looks up at the night sky, the Milky Way seems to stretch to Sado Island.

He visited Naoetsu in Niigata and composed this poem at a haiku gathering on the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar(August 21st in the Gregorian calendar) in 1689. However, he couldn't see the Milky Way there because of rainy weather. The sea is quiet in that season. The Milky Way doesn't lie on Sado Island.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tanabata festivals

The Sendai Tanabata Festival(仙台七夕まつり) is being held in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture from August 6th to 8th.

Date Masamune (伊達 政宗,1567-1636), the first lord of the Sendai Domain, backed up Tanabata(the star festival) to pray for a good harvest and improve people's skills in the Edo Period. The festival came to be held on August 7th after the Meiji era, but it declined gradually. Volunteers from merchant in Sendai brought back the festival in 1928.

The shopping mall in Sendai is decorated with about 3,000 bamboo with streamers(吹流し,fukunagashi) representing weaving yarns of the Weaver, strips of paper(短冊,tanzaku) to improve people's learning and writing, paper garments(紙衣,kamigoromo) to transfer people's misfortune and disease onto, or to improve people's sewing, paper cranes(折鶴,orizuru) to pray for a long life, cast nets(投網,toami) to pray for a bumper catch, drawstring bags(巾着,kinchaku) to save money by economizing and garbage boxes(屑籠,kuzukago) to take care of what one has and keep a clean house.

strips of colorful paper hung from bamboo branches, gorgeous streamers, a streamer with paper cranes, a paper garment(kimono), a drawstring bag hung from the underside of the garment, a white paper cast net on the far right.

a streamer with paper cranes

People including earthquake and tsunami victims wrote their wishes on strips of colorful paper and folded paper cranes in the hope of reconstruction. Their wishes include sad ones such as seeing their family members again and returning home.

The musicians from the Gion Festival in Kyoto and the performers from the Hakata Dontaku Minato Festival took part in the festival for the first time.
The dancers from the Awa Odori Dancing Festival in Tokushima, a sister city of Sendai, performed at the festival.
The Gion Festival in Kyoto started to counteract the epidemic spreading across Japan in 869 when massive earthquake and tsunami hit Sanriku area.

Photo Source: Sendai City, Tourism Section

Kenka Tanabata(けんか七夕) is a type of the star festivals held on August 7th in Kesen-cho in Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture. Two four-ton floats crash into each other. The festival has a history of over 900 years.  Three of four floats were swept up by the tsunami, so the townspeople pulled the surviving float against each other this year.

In Takata-cho in Rikuzentakata City, 12 tanabata floats parade through the town. Nine of 12 floats were swept up or destroyed by the tsunami. The surviving three floats paraded through the shattered town.  In some areas of the town, all of homes were wept up by the tsunami. Those areas are due to disappear from the town, so townspeople in those areas participated in the festival.

dry confections in the shape of  bobbin.
Bobbins were offered to improve sewing skills at the Star Festival.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hiroshima and Fukushima

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony was held on August 6th.

Many people including many of atomic bombing victims have thought of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and of its use for military purposes as two separate issues. However, the nuclear accident in Fukushima obliged us to reconsider peaceful utilization of nuclear power.

Recently I ate some peaches from Fukushima. It was so delicious, but they were cheap due to the nuclear accident. Quantity of radioactive material in the peaches from Fukushima doesn't exceed limit imposed by regulation.

The Fukushima Waraji Festival was held in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture on August 6th. I knew the festival for the first time when the Tohoku Rokkon-sai(東北六魂祭) was held on July 16th and 17th.
Waraji is a traditional straw sandal.  A giant waraji is dedicated to the Haguro Shrine(羽黒神社) in Fukushima City to pray for health in February. That ritual has a history of over 300 years. The waraji is 12 meters long and weighs 2 tons.
The Fukushima Waraji Festival started using examples from the ritual in 1970. The festival includes dedication ceremony of a giant waraji, a waraji race and a dance parade.

The 93th national high school baseball championship has begun at Koshien Stadium yestereday. A member of a high school baseball team in Kesennuma, one of tsunami-hit areas, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. His school was engulfed by the tsunami.
The team representing Fukushima Prefecture won its first-round match. Many members of the high school baseball teams in tsunami-hit areas gave up participation in the championship or were not able to fulfil their potentials this summer.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

A strong typhoon is slowly passing over Okinawa area.  Unsettled weather continued for a few days.
The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival(山形花笠まつり) is being held in Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture from August 5th to 7th.
Hanagasa(花笠) is a bamboo hat decorated with artificial flowers.

People dance to "Hanagasa Ondo" which is a popular dance song in Yamagata area. The well-known phrase "Yassho, Makasho(ヤッショマカショ)" is repeated in the song.
Around 1935, the song was made from a traditional folk song that construction workers sang to keep time when building a bank and its choreography was composed.
This festival, which began as part of a parade to promote tourism in 1963, is a dance parade including various Hanagasa dances performed in many parts of Yamagata.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Akita Kanto Festival

The Akita Kanto Festival  (秋田竿燈まつり) is being held in Akita City, Akita Prefecture from August 3rd to 6th.

Kanto(竿燈) is a 10-meter-long bamboo pole with 40 lanterns. They weigh 50 kilograms.

Kanto holders balance them on their foreheads, shoulders and hips.

As with Nebuta festivals, this festival comes from a folk event to drive off the demon of drowsiness.

An ancient literature written in 1789 described the folk event that people paraded along the street holding a long pole to which horizontal poles with lanterns were attached.

The shape of kanto represents ears of rice and straw rice bags to pray for a good harvest.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Nebuta festivals

The Aomori Nebuta Festival(青森ねぶた祭) is being held in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture from August 2nd to 7th. Nebuta floats parade through the city.

Nebuta or Neputa is a summer festival held in many areas in Aomori Prefecture. The festival is said to have originated as a combination of the Star Festival, Bon Festival and traditional folk events.
According to the most widely believed theory, the word "nebuta" or "neputa" is derived from "nemutashi" which means "sleepy." It was a folk event to drive off the demon of drowsiness that hampers the people's farm work.

Nebuta floats are giant intricately-shaped paper lanterns. At the end of the Bon Festival, people send the souls of the dead who have returned to their families back to the next world by throwing lighted paper lanterns into the river or the sea. These paper lanterns are thought to be a primitive form of nebuta(neputa). The floats are designed based on the famous scenes of kabuki, myths and historical figures in Japan or China.

Haneto(跳ね人) dancers in colorful costumes bounce to the rhythm of the lively music saying "Rassera (らっせーらー)." Haneto means a hopper.

Aomori Nebuta and Hirosaki Neputa are well known all over Japan.

The Hirosaki Neputa Festival(弘前ねぷた祭り) featuring fan-shaped floats is held in Hirosaki City from August 1st to 7th.

The Kuroishi Neputa Festival(黒石ねぷた祭り) is held in Kurosaki City from July 30th to August 2nd.

Ominato Nebuta(大湊ねぶた) in Ominato in Mutsu City

The Gosyogawara Tachineputa (五所川原立佞武多) is held in Gosyogawara City from August 4th to 8th.

It features floats with a height of 22 meters called Tachineputa.

Goldfish Nebuta(金魚ねぶた) was made as a paper lantern and appeared in nebuta festivals in the latter half of the 19th century.

It was modeled after Tsugaru-nishiki(津軽錦) which was a species of goldfish bred in Tsugaru Area.

Members of the Tsugaru Domain bred goldfishes by order of the domain's lord to sell them as a local specialty.