Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hyakumanto Festival

Nick got home from his IA during the height of Bon season. We took advantage of a free weekend to take another base MWR tour to a festival in Kawagoe.
"Come with us to Kawagoe City and admire the radiance of the lanterns and revel in the celebration of the 'Million Lantern Festival'"
A few of our friends went with us and we decided to make it more fun by dressing up like the Japanese in traditional summer yukata's.

Though intimidating at first, yukatas aren't that hard to put on yourself (with the help of you-tube and a friend, of course!) The tour bus ride was almost two hours long- too long to sit all tied up in our yukatas- but as we got closer to our final destination we all attempted to change in the back of the bus.
The girls and I making our obi's (belts) look straighter...getting ready on a moving bus is hard!
The boys got a little impatient with us...of course their Japanese get-ups were a little less complicated!!!
First we visited the Kitain Temple...

"Kitain is a head temple of Tendaishu Buddhist sect in Kanto District. It was built in 830. Tenkai Dojo, who came to Kitain as an archbishop during the late 16th century, made it famous and thriving."

"Tenkai earned the trust of Tokugawa leyasu who visited Kawagoe for hunting in 1611. The fire in 1638 destroyed the temple. Only the main gate escaped the fire. Lemitsu, the third Tokugawa Shogun ordered reconstruction of the temple. He answered the wish of Tenkai who wanted to move part of the buildings of Edo Castle to Kitain. This eventuated in the only one remaining structure of the original Edo Castle."

We got lots of..."Can we take a picture with you?"
Or..."Can we take-e your-a pic-a-ture?"
On site is the historically popular Gohyaku-rakan (500 statues of Rakan).

"There are actually 540 stone statues that are arrange in a part of Kitain. Rakan translated literally means 500 disciples of Buddha. The statues on an average are not so tall, but have a variety of postures (standing, sitting and lying) and display several emotions (happiness, sadness, and anger)."

After touring the temple, we made our way over to the famous streets of Kawagoe where the Hyakumanto Festival was to take place.

Thee streets of Kawagoe are famous for their preservation of the old castle town of the Edo period...the Edo period is the time during Japanese history when the shoguns ruled from 1603 to 1868. The picture below is of the Toki-no-Kane (bell tower), one of the prominent sites. The bell tower serves as the symbol for Koedo and rings four times a day. Originally built over 400 years ago, it has burnt down and been rebuilt several times.
"Since the Edo castle and it's surrounding area lost almost all historical properties in the devastating earthquake in 1923 and the bombings in WWII, the cultural properties of Kawagoe which had a close relation with Edo, have become extremely valuable to recall the culture of old."

Kashiya-yokocho, or "Candy Street," is where the festival took place. A busy street lined with sweet shops and vendors selling all kinds of sweet potato flavored goodies (among other things). Kawagoe is famous for its sweet potatoes...sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato coffee, and even sweet potato beer! (We tried the ice was ok, but wouldn't be my first choice of flavor)

Parades, lanterns, a large procession with portable shrines, lanterns, music, lanterns....

And at the end, a big drum see which group of drummers could out-play the others?!

Keeping the "old" alive is very important to the Japanese....they hold their ancient history very dear. Coming from America, a country so much younger than Japan, I am fascinated by Japan's rich cultural history. I love America, but am continually intrigued by Japan.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bon Season

= Happy Summer!

The summer heat is here (in full force) and with it all the summer festivals! Even though the summers in our part of Japan are pretty hot and miserable, the festivals and activities that take place during this season are enough to make me love summer here anyway.

With summer comes Bon Season! That means music and dancing, street vendors and yummy treats, lanterns lining the streets and the aroma of incense filling the air! Oh, how I love it!

Obon is officially celebrated from August 13-15th, but like Christmas in the States, the Japanese celebrate for nearly 2 months.

This past week, one of my English students told me all about “Obon Celebration” as she calls it. (This particular student meets with me once a month and makes it a priority to have a mini lesson with me – ironic I know – during her 2 hour English lesson, to discuss Japan traditions and holidays. Considering there is a Japanese holiday almost every month, there is always something to learn from her!)

Obon is a very important time of year for the Japanese, it’s when they celebrate their loved ones who have died. Traditionally they go to the shrines where their deceased’s graves are on the evening of the 13th, carrying lanterns to wake the dead. Once at the shrine, they “get” the spirits of their family members and bring them home with them. For the next 3 days they celebrate, preparing food and serving it to the spirits.

On the 15th, they end the celebration by sending the “spirit” down the river…thus telling it to go and be free until next year…this is done by making a little alter-like contraption with candles and flowers, food, what-not and sending it down the river. (My student told me that in the more recent years, they have been told that this litters the water and therefore they now just burn the alter.)

Part of the Oban celebration is the Awa Dance Festival, held every year during the days (months actually) of Oban. Awa Odori dancers parade the streets dancing choreographed moves and chanting to the beat of the taiko drums! Very entertaining...attracting over 1.3 million tourists a year!

Bon Odori dancers also dance during the Awa festivals. Bon Odori, meaning simply Bon dance, is easier movements than Awa dances. (Awa Odori means “fool’s dance” due to it’s technical choreography and rigorous practice schedules - so as to perform perfectly) This fool would’ve done Awa had I had the time to make all the practices, instead I performed the Bon Odori dances again with several other fellow Americans from Atsugi base.

Ouch! Check out the shoes (geta) that the Awa dancers have to wear! No thank you!

Bumpada bum padabum goes the Taiko Drums...

Beretta watched the drums carefully, very carefully...she wanted to make sure that loud noise was safe! (She actually barked at them when they started playing...wasn't a fan)

For one of the festivals, my friend Tami and I decided not to dance and instead dress up in our own yukatas. She had found mini dog yukatas for the pups (they love to dress up their dogs here!) so we brought them along as well. Of course the Japanese loved this...the dogs were a hit...everyone wanted to pet them, take their photos and kept telling us over and over - "kawaii" (cute)!....The lady in the picture with us is who watches our dogs at our base kennel! She loves Beretta and Bella....she says they are "best friends"! Ha! They were excited to see her too! As dog moms, Tami and I love the fact that we can leave to go see our hubbies in port and know our dogs are in good hands! Thank you Masako!

The Bon Odori songs differ depending on what region you live in. But during our weekly Bon practices we learn many dances from multiple regions (18 in all I think). Then dance at 3 separate festivals, showing off our red, white and blue yukatas (summer kimonos) as well as our dance moves.

Bon season is officially over...sad ;( but then again, there's always next year! Come visit us during July or August and you too can take part in the Japanese's summer celebrations! Sugoi! (Awesome!!!!)