A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

BON Jour!

There is a beautiful full moon tonight. Just as it SHOULD be for the O-Bon festival, but RARELY IS. Since the Japanese have switched over from their old lunar based calendar in 1873, it has been very uncommon for the 15th of August (or July in Tokyo) to actually fall on the 15th of the lunar month (which is a full moon). This year is one of those rare years, and it has provided extra atmosphere to the various BON related events going on tonight around Japan. These are mostly BON-ODORI community dance events. Until the early decades of the 20th century, BON-ODORI were danced in most communities around here, but were most famous (for their bacchanalia) on Mt. Tsukuba. For some reason ALL of these dance events including those on the mountain have gone the way of the Japanese ibis (toki), and by that I mean “disappeared”. Maybe it was the BAWDINESS of the Tsukuba-san events which lead to their doom (after the puritan western influence of the Meiji years)?

There was an interesting event which took place tonight that included Bon dancing, as well as professional Enka entertainment and a unique rain invocation ceremony. I’m talking about the Karakasa-Mando at Niihari’s Washi Shrine. I have been there before but unfortunately could not make it today (even though I came back from Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine today intending to go to Niihari). It is a perfect place to experience a small village summer festival, swarthy night-air with the girls in colorful yukata, lots of food stalls, festival music (hayashi) and plenty of speeches.

My first time at that event I had really wanted to get a good seat for watching the Karakasa, a kind of giant tanabata decoration, which when lit, sizzles like a roman candle. I found a good spot, sat down, and waited for the big moment. I waited and waited, in the dark. My eyes grew accustomed the lack of light and my pupils probably expanded to there limit. When the fuse was finally lit and the Karakasa burst into life, I was completely and painfully BLINDED. After the few seconds it took to adjust my eyes, the Karakasa had burned itself out. I didn’t see anything! I could do nothing but laugh at the absurdity of having waited so long in anticipation. If you want to have a look (and listen) though, see this page.

As I said before I spent the day (as I usually do on August 15th) at controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where tens of thousands passed through in the PULVERIZING HEAT to pay their respects to the soldiers who have fallen in Japan’s wars since the Meiji Restoration (1868), with special emphasis on WWll, since it was on this day that that war ended.

I have many amazing things to tell and lots of pictures as well, but its been a very long day and you probably don’t want to hear about it until tomorrow.


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