Every year on August 15 Nagasaki citizens mourn the loved ones who passed away during the past year in a very unique and spiritual way. Float boats parade around the streets while firecrackers are lit and gongs make the loudest noise. It was believed that the boats carried the spirit of the deceased, the firecrackers scares the evil spirits away from them as they are walked to the ocean where they will be sent off.
This procession is part of the Bon season in Japan, where people honor the spirits of their ancestors in a tradition with a history longer than 500 years and celebrated in different ways all around Japan, including the popular Bon-odori dance. The procession is conducted in slightly different ways in different cities across the Nagasaki prefecture, but in essence they are the same. There is un-spoken rivalry among the different cities about which procession is the best, although I attended to the one in Nagasaki city and the one in Shimabara city, I won’t say which one I liked more. Lately this festival became a touristic attraction, it is estimated that in 2010 around 180,000 people attended to see the procession.
Knowing the context of this festival, I decided to be a little discrete while taking pictures of the event as a symbol of respect and empathy to the families who suffered the loss of a loved one. However, after some time, I spotted a family who built a boat dedicated to their pet dog. At the moment I thought it was disrespectful from their part to those praying for the loss of a family member, but sometime later I was explained that actually commemorating a deceased pet dogs is a common practice as families become so attached to them, and to some extent they are considered part of the family.
Nagasaki’s procession reminds me the “day of death” in Mexico, in the sense that families get together to remember and pray for the ancestors, the boats had some resemblance to the Mexican altars. Specially the one in Shimabara city, where the last boat in the procession is shaped like a red dragon with red lights and throwing smoke making of this the highlight of the night.
The following are some of the pictures I took during the procession in both, Nagasaki city and Shimbara city.