Japan, Photography, travel

Spirit Boat Procession – Nagasaki

Details: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/SpiritBoatProcessionNagasaki

Every year on August 15 Nagasaki citizens mourn the loved ones who passed away during the past year in a very uniqueDSC_0751-Edit 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 DSC_0765and 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.

Culture, Japan, Photography, travel

Shogawa Tourist Festival

​The name of the festival suggest that it was created to promote tourism in this city, but there were a few critical pieces missing on the equation that made me believe it was the complete opposite intention. The festival was amazing by itself, but the following are just a few situations that made if this trip one of the most difficult and strange, yet enjoyable.​

1) Difficult to get in and out.

I asked for directions at the tourist information office in Takaoka station and the lady didn’t know about the festival at all, she had to make a few phone calls and search on the Internet to get the details. She explain that I had to take a local bus and get off at the last stop. I followed her directions and as I was getting off of the bus I couldn’t really see anything other than rise fields. I asked the driver and he told me to keep walking for another 10 mins and that eventually I would see it. After 10 mins walking, I couldn’t see anything else other than rice fields, some factories and a few houses. I kept walking and was getting a bit impatient, until all of the sudden I heard a drum far away on the distance, I followed the sound until reached the festival. On the way back, I took a Taxi, had to ask a security guard as the road was very empty. He suggested to go to the convenience store and ask the personel to get a taxi for me.

2) Mostly locals showed up.

It might be that this was the unlucky year where not many people traveled to see the festival, but something made me feel like if most of the attendants were friends and family with the performers. Although I did spot one westerner other than me, I felt like many people were looking at me as if I was and strange curiosity not commonly seen in the surroundings.

​Shogawa Tourist Festival and the Neighbor city’s Tonami Yotaka festival are celebrated almost the same days, nearby cities and the main event is almost the same (floats fight). I wouldn’t recommend attending to both neighboring festivals unless you have enough time and adventurous spirit. If I have to choose to attend to only one, I would choose this one given the variety of performances and relaxed / exotic environment.

Full details: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/ShogawaTouristFestival

Japan, Photography, travel

Tsuzawa Yotaka Andon Festival

Just when I thought I’ve seen it all, I found this amazing festival that looks like the predecessor to the Monster truck shows, but Edo era style. Big floats pulled by dozens of people bump into each other with the merely purpose of destroying the enemy and winning the fight. Ok, more seriously, this festival is a celebration to pray for a good harvest in the year.

Easy to predict, often the competition heats up and people forget about the floats fight and switch to fist fighting, but the police is very well distributed to prevent any major argument and make sure that the event proceeds safely for everyone to enjoy (personally I enjoyed the fist fighting as much as I enjoyed the floats fight).

In addition to the big fight, they also have an small area with local street food where people socialize. Oyabe- shi isn’t exactly a big city, it is surrounded by rice fields and the distances from a random place place to another are long, so it’s a good opportunity to get to know the neighbors.

Besides the socializing part, there isn’t much happening before the fights. People start getting ready, dance, sing and drink in groups while they wait for their turn to fight.

Full details of the event can be found here:


The following are some of the pictures I took.

Japan, Photography, travel

Sanja matsuri

According to the legend, a statue of the Kannon (deity for mercy) was found in the river by two fishermen in the year of 628. The chief of their village recognized the sanctity of the statue and rebuilt his own house into a temple for the villagers to worship Kannon. This is how Senso-ji was founded, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo and an Icon of Japan often featured on books and movies.

Every year, the 3rd weekend of May, Senso-ji honors these 3 founders of the temple (Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakamoto) with the largest and wildest festival in Tokyo. During this 3 days celebration they have multiple activities and performances, where the highlight is the parade of the 3 big mikoshis (portable shrines) carried around the streets by different groups of people. This is also a unique opportunity to see Yakusa (Japanese mafia) members, as they traditionally join the festival to carry their Mikoshi show their very distinctive tattoos.

Thousands of people attend to this festival, it gets so crowded that it is difficult to move around, especially around the main Temple, but still very entertaining and a must see festival if you are near Tokyo.

Full details (When, where, how and more) can be found here: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/AsakusaSanjaMatsuri

The following are some pictures I took of the event

Festivals, Japan, Photography, Tokyo, travel

Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Matsuri

Mid May, the weather starts warming up and so the festivals in japan. The Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara matsuri is just a reproduction of its original festival in Kagoshima (more than 1000 km away from Tokyo), but yet it was an enjoyable event where I had the chance learn a little bit about the traditions specific to the Kagoshima prefecture.

Shibuya is famous for its crowded and lively streets, so at first sight I didn’t really notice anything different than usual (it was crowded as always), but then I realized that there was actually a parade about to start. Celebrated on the streets west side of the Shibuya JR station (commonly known as the Hachiko square), thousands of performers get together to dance ohara music, wear traditional Japanese clothes and promote tourism in Kagoshima. In addition to the parade, they also have a taiko concert (Japanese drums), and some Kagoshima street food.

One thing for sure, this festival made me want to travel to Kagoshima to see the original festival in November, which is supposed to last for 2 days and is supposed to be packed with a lot more activities. Of course Kagoshima shines by itself for its amazing onsens (hotsprings) and hot sand bath, all of these combined with an awesome festival could be the perfect formula to a great vacation.

Full details (Where, when and how) can be found here: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/ShibuyaKagoshimaOharaMatsuri

The following are the pictures I took during this festival

Art, Culture, Festivals, Japan, Outdoors, Photography, travel

Tama Genryu matsuri (Headstream Festival) Kosuge, Yamanashi

Drums being played in front of a fire with a flame taller than 5 meters next to the river, prayers for clean water and fire. A ritual I thought I could only see in movies is the highlight of the Genryu festival.

This is a daylong festival loaded with many events and performances. This area is known for its fish and wasabi which is sold at the event by many food stalls during the performances. However, the highlight of the day starts around 6:00 pm with a taiko performance (Japanese drums) as they start lighting the torches. After a few words, they proceed to burn 3 big piles of straw while the drums continue to play. The ritual ends with a display of fireworks.

Although it was a difficult transportation, I rate this as one of my top favorite fire festivals in Japan. Surprisingly not very well known by many tourist, I was literally the only foreigner in the crowd. The following are just a few pictures I took during this trip.

Art, festival, Japan, Nature, Photography, Tourism, travel

Mino festival : Hana Mikoshi (花みこし)

Mino City is known for its history of more than 1,300 years of making washi (Japanese paper) characteristic for its fine texture, strength, softness, and its endurance of centuries. It is commonly used in traditional crafts such as lanterns, umbrellas, fans, etc.

Despite its great success with the paper industry, Mino city remains relatively unknown to tourists (even for domestic tourism). It required a little extra skills to travel all the way there, as most of the signs were written in Japanese only, people don’t speak a second language and I had to make an extra effort to ask for directions using my very limited Japanese.

However, the effort paid off when I found a city rich in Japanese traditions, extremely friendly people that were not shy at all to approach fascinated by the fact that I was the only foreigner who showed up to see their festival. They were even more surprised to find out that I’m from Mexico. Their international influence is so limited that many people asked where Mexico is and what the spoken language is.

Being a major paper manufacturer, is not a surprise that the Mino Festival involves paper in some way. People decorate the mikoshis (portable shrines) with sakura flowers made of paper. Thousands of paper flowers standing meters tall in top of each of 30 mikoshis that people carried around the city while dancing and celebrating in a very cheerful and energetic way.

This time, I noticed that people were passing around a wooden bucket where everybody drinks during the celebration. I was approached multiple times and was asked to drink from the bucket as well, and for my surprise the bucket was full of sake (rise wine). Such a good quality sake and so much of it that I actually got a bit tipsy even though I was just an observant of the celebration.

The following are just a few pictures that I captured of this festival: