Saturday, July 29, 2006
Saturday, July 15, 2006
In Japan, relationships with deities through prayers are enhanced by other forms of communication: messages to the gods may be pasted to the back of kites at festival times, while a float is itself an invitation to the gods to join in the festivities.
The north of the Japan's main island, Honshu, is known for the spectacular summer festivals that take place each year. For a whole week in early August, the port city of Aomori attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to watch the large illuminated floats, nebuta, parading through the streets by night. Supported on a platform and sturdy wheels and pushed by some twenty to thirty men, the quality of a nebuta is judged not only on its beauty and dynamic portrayal of a scene, but on the way it moves and the reaction of the audience. Just over twenty floats up to 5m high, 9m wide and 7m deep are made each year and every one is accompanied by musicians and hundreds of dancers in festival costume. Smaller floats and lanterns advertise both the large commercial companies that sponsor the construction of the floats and the local associations and community groups that participate in the festival.
According to one legend, the origins of the floats are said to date back to the 9th century when an imperial general, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, built huge paper models to intimidate the rebellious tribes he had been sent to pacify in the north of Japan. The first historical records describing the festival date from the late 18th century, since when the floats have evolved from small lanterns carried by one person to the giant forms of today.
The festival is also said to drive away evil spirits that threaten the crops and community life. As in other festivals throughout Japan, the deities are invited into the float, paraded through the streets, feasted with rituals, food and entertainment, before being sent on their way and the float destroyed.
Mitama Matsuri (みたままつり), literally meaning soul festival, is a ceremony started by the Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) after WWII to console more than 2,466,000 souls that died and have been enshrined in this shrine since then. More than 300,000 visitors from within and outside of Tokyo come to appreciate the seasonal tradition apart from the religious side, as thousands of Kagebombori paper lanterns ethereally brighten the summer Tokyo sky in soft orange and white.
Several thousands of lanterns (about 30'000) are displayed, making the night view extremely nice and suggestive.
You need to find a way to stand up if you want to take a good picture of the lanterns ^_^