August 16th is the last day of obon — a summer festival that honors the spirits of the dead. It’s the day everyone has to send back all those ancestors who have being hanging out at the family altar, feasting on fruit, sticky rice cakes, and sake’. Because, really, you don’t want them hoards of ghosties hanging around all year round. Especially that obnoxious Grandpa Hiro, right?
In order to send them peacefully back to the other side you have to perform what is called okuribi (送り火), translated more or less as “send off fire”. Everyone’s familiar with the lit paper lanterns floated down rivers. This is called toro nagashi. It’s a kind of send off fire, but it’s a boring way to do it.
My favorite way is what my town does at the beach every August 16th. Here, let me explain in photos.
First someone makes a bunch of these puppies. Back in the day there were fifteen to twenty all up and down the beach. This year only three. (#sad) I guess our town is spending all its budget on tsunami towers, no money left over to send the spirits back home in style.
The first one is just for the kids. They teach a bunch of elementary aged children how to hold the fire, how to swing the torches, and then once it gets dark, they let them loose. The idea is to land one of those flaming ropes into the open top of the broom-looking thing.
It’s always crazy with the old men yelling at the kids and chastising them for trying to kill each other. Entertainment at its finest.
Once lit, the whole thing goes up in flames. Slowly. They pre-load them with fireworks, too. Because if it’s not dangerous enough having twenty people winging flaming ropes all around in the dark, you need to add more bottle rockets.
The next two were reserved for adults. Anyone who wants to give it a try is invited down. No training needed. Let’s do this thing.
So most of the time this is going on a team of Buddhist monks are lined up with drums and chanting okyo to make the transition for the ancestors easier. My interpretation is that the spirits get woozy and ride the smoke back to heaven.
Here’s the moment when the adult team actually landed one of the fires into the top. Woo hoo!
Here’s a neat long-shutter shot.
And then at the end after all three are lit, the first one pretty much burned down, more fireworks in the back.
Because no matter what the culture there can never be enough things-that-blaze-and-blow-up.
There was even a short fireworks show after all this ended.
So long, Grandpa Hiro.
Like this post?
Sign up for my blog updates and never miss a post.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.