Thru the Eye of Obscure

Obscure | Contents | Feedback

Sally in Japan 08/98
Sally Provan, in Japan, wrote

What have i been doing lately:

The ninth of august was the anniversary of the day the bomb was dropped on nagasaki. i was working that day, so i didn't get to go to any of the ceremonies.

One of my workmates went, and she told me that people brought their parents to the ceremony in the form of framed portraits hung around their necks. it happened to be the day that we had organised the staff beach party, which was highly incongruous. on the way there we saw that the banks of the urakami river were lit up with lanterns to comemmorate the dead . we went over the hills (actually, when we headed over the hills in the darkness i felt like i was going to a rave) to a small beach which was occupied by groups of teenagers letting off fireworks, which is what they do in summer here.

I spent hours floating in the water, which was ridiculously warm. like all old ravers i couldn't stop myself from thinking "what a great place to have a rave"

The 15th of august was the culmination of O-Bon, a three day festival to commemorate the dead. O-Bon is a Bhuddist festival, sort of. the japanese take a sensible approach to religion: Shinto gets births and weddings, and bhuddism (at the moment ,whichever way i spell bhuddism, it doesn't look right) is stuck with death. i get the feeling that the japanese dont really care about religion, they just like rituals and festivals.

The third day of O-Bon is a national holiday: at nova we dont get national holidays off. There were five of us working the late shift that day: in the last four lesson periods there were two students in the school.

Nagasaki celebrates O-Bon a little differently from the rest of japan, because of the chinese influence (when japan was closed to the outside world for 200 years, nagasaki was the only point of contact. The chinese had a segregated part of the city to trade from, and the dutch, the only europeans who didn't bother trying to convert the japanese to christianity, traded from a man-made island in the harbour).

On the evening of the fifteenth there is shoro-nagashi, the parade of the spirit ships. People who have relatives (or occasionally, family pets) who died in the last year have wooden boats with wheels built, which are hung with lanterns displaying the symbol of the family.

On the night of the festival, the spirit boats are pushed (or in the case of the smaller ones, carried), some by up to 30 people, from the family home to the port at Ohato, to symbolise the dead persons spirits release into the sea (the boats used to be floated out to sea, now they are broken up and piled onto garbage trucks).

Beforehand, everybody has a feast and gets drunk, and this being Nagasaki, the parade is incredibly noisy. Behind every boat, a crate of firecrackers is wheeled. Even from inside nova, it sounded like a war zone. When i got to go outside and watch, i ended up covered in flakes of ash.

The people hauling the boats where charging about at high speed (no mean feat, considering the weight of the boats), throwing firecrackers under their friends feet, and at random into the crowd. Every so often, someone would throw a lit firecracker into a box of firecrackers, which would then erupt in a fireball.

There were quite a few police there, directing traffic and looking indulgent (police in japan direct traffic with things like short lightsabers with flashing red l.e.d. s in them (had to watch the spelling of that one. I want one.). Conservative japanese,anybody?

i'm going to stop writing now cos i'm not quite over the flu, and i'm beginning to sway slightly.

by the way, in japan it is quite common to carry a parasol, i have just bought one (white, embroidered), and recommed them highly. sally.