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.

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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

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festival, Fire, Japan, Photography, travel

Tejikara Fire Festival

The Tejikara fire festival is one of those hidden gems not many people know about. It falls somewhere between eccentric and awesome festival. It makes it even more special that it is celebrated just a few weeks after the Sakura festivals near Kyoto and Nagoya, making April one of my favorite months to visit Japan.
This is a celebration with 300 years of history, where groups of people carry small shrines around and dance under a cascade of sparkles of fire and firecrackers and make noise hammering big bells. Most of the participants are naked from the waist up while dancing under the fire. It is believe that this practice will grant the participants with good health.

This year (2015), during the introduction, they made a mistake and some of the sparkles of fire made it all the way to the regular public, and I was lucky (or unlucky) to be one of the few people who reached the sparkles of fire, and trust me … those things burn … I’m not sure how these people can handle so many sparkles of fire for so long.

When and where?

  • Second Saturday of April, 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM approximately
  • Tejikarao Shrine (Kuranomae, Gifu city)
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Festivals, Japan, Photography, Sakura, Tokyo

Sakura madness – Photographs of numerous festivals

The Sakura tree (cherry tree) is one of the strongest symbols in Japan, it can be found in the 100¥ coins, poems, paintings, music, cloths, food, even Starbucks made a Sakura flavored coffee. It is a source of inspiration and a delight for Japanese people. It has been like this for centuries, and it will continue like this for many more generations.

Sakura trees last in full bloom only for a little longer than two weeks. For many it is a symbol of how beautiful and short life is, frequently compared to the life of the samurai (not very sure why the life of a samurai is beautiful though). Sakura season is also a season to say goodbye for students graduating from college who start a new life in their new job.  Parents say goodbye to their sons and daughters as they become independent, many of them get reallocated to different cities as required by their new employers.

Short life and new life calls for celebration and certainly Japanese people know how to do it: drinking, eating and awesome Sakura decorations and illuminations. I call these two weeks the “Sakura madness”. They have a Sakura forecast that people follow very closely to find out when and where are the most beautiful Sakura trees in full bloom. The most popular areas will usually host Sakura festivals with street food stalls, people bring their picnic mat and enjoy the moment drinking and eating with friends and/or family. Many people wake up very early in the morning to “reserve” an space with their picnic mat and wait for their guests. This tradition is called “hanami”.

The famous “hanami” parties and Sakura festivals are definitely a must see and do. There are lots of popular places for hanami, the following are just a few that I covered this year:

Nakameguro Sakura Festival

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Kawazuzakura Festival

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Midtown blossom

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Kasai Rinkai Park

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Sankeien Garden

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Chidori-ga-fuchi

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festival, Fire, Japan, travel

Hifuri shinji: Fire ritual

DSC_3896It is an ancient japanese believe that when Kunitatsuno (one of the 12 gods of agriculture) got married, spring was borne, bringing the beautiful Sakura (Cherry blossoms trees) and a good harvest through the season. Every year at the Aso shrine, locals conmemorate this wedding and pray for a good harvest with a unique display of fire.

This is part of the fire festival in Mount Aso in Kyushu during the month of March and celebrated just right outside of the Ichinomiya Aso Shrine.

The celebration starts with an area with food stalls where you can find horse meat traditional from Kumamoto, later on, around 5:00 pm the wedding ceremony starts with a display of Taiko (Traditional Japanese drums). It is a little after dusk when the bride arrives and the worshipers will set bales of straw on fire and swing around in circles to welcome the bride. After the ceremony is performed (a few minutes later) regular people from the crowd are encouraged to join the celebration and grab their own bale of straw to set on fire and swing as well.

Details of the festival: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/HifurishinjiFireritual

Pictures and text : Enrique Moreno

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festival, Japan, travel

Toh-shiya – First arrow of the year, first arrow as an adult.

    DSC_8286 Toshiya is an archery competition originated in the late 16th century. Nowadays celebrated only in the Sanjusangen-do temple (Kyoto) in conjunction with the Coming of age day, attracting thousands of archers from all around Japan.

Although, this event is open to archers from all the different ages, the highlight of the day are the young adults celebrating that they reached the age of majority (20 years old). Ladies wearing beautiful and colorful kimonos with hakama make of this event a unique sight.

The event starts 9:00 AM, but I was unfortunate enough (or lazy enough?) to get there by 10 AM and the place was already packed; the area with direct view to the archers is so small that it made the task of taking pictures something close to impossible with a little bit of dangerous. If you want to get the best spot for taking pictures (without having a press pass), you have to be there from early in the morning and you won’t be able to move or you will lose your spot.

Somehow this isn’t exactly the most popular festival (even for Japanese people), but it is absolutely worth taking a look if you happen to be around Kyoto during mid-January.

Complete details can be found here:

http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/spot/festival/tohshiya.html

Photos and text : Enrique Moreno

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