Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tōrō Nagashi at Mikasa Park, Yokosuka 2014

It's Obon Season in Japan...well, in this part of Japan, anyway.  This is an event from Buddhism to honor one's ancestors.  It's a three day event that occurs around either July 15th or August 15th, depending on the traditions of your area.  This event is celebrated around the middle of the seventh month of the year...according to the lunar calendar, that is August; according to the solar calendar, it's July.  The city of Yokosuka commemorated their ancestors this week.  
Buddhists believe that this time of the year their ancestors' spirits return to be with their family, so their earthly families take time to clean their houses as well as family grave sites before helping the spirits make the voyage back.
It looks like the celebrations can range from a big ole festival to a quiet public ceremony.  I've seen some places have Bon Odori (traditional dance performed to welcome the spirits of the dead and is usually performed on a wooden stage), some have huge bonfires (like over 600 feet), parades, fireworks, and drums.  For those interested, here is a list of five Bon festivals that sound amazing:  http://www.japantravelinfo.com/blog/5-favorite-obon-festivals/

So, after a quick dinner Wednesday night (July 16th), we all ran out of the house so we could make it to Mikasa Park by 1845 to watch the Tōrō Nagashi.  Tōrō Nagashi is usually performed on the last day of the Bon festival.  It is a way for people to guide their ancestral spirits back to the other world by lighting candles and placing them in lanterns which are then floated out to sea.  

We made it to the park by about 1850 and found a place to sit on the grass.  There were a LOT of people crowded onto the Mikasa Ship Museum to get a bird's eye view of the lanterns.  Since it doesn't really get dark until about 1915 or so, we had a little while to wait.  

The first of nine boats to go out into the water
So, Garytt took off to play with all the Japanese kids running around the park.  Once the boats started moving out into the water he ran back over to watch...I do have to say, he was not at all impressed by this festival.  Mackenzie thought it was magical, Garytt said, "Is this ALL they are doing?"


Then, two or three at a time, the lanterns were slowly lit and lowered into the water.  



I heard that there were supposed to be ten boats and around 1,300 lanterns.  We only counted nine boats, one of which just sat toward the back of the bay without putting any lanterns in the water.  It was about ten minutes or so into the lantern lighting that we realized that a lot of the lanterns seemed to be floating toward the base.  Hmm...wonder if we could get over there for a good view??  So, we packed up and started back to the base.


 On our way back past Mikasa Ship we saw several people setting up to perform Bon Odori.  So, we stopped to see a few minutes of the performance.





I'm not sure what time we made it back to the base, but we got in our car (which we left by Womble Gate) and drove to the little parking lot beside the post office, then walked to the sea wall.  Here's what we saw...


So, I have a question to anyone out there that can answer it...the purpose of Tōrō Nagashi is to help the spirits back to the other world.  Well, what happens if all the lanterns get stuck by the sea wall and don't make it out to sea?  There were a LOT of lanterns piled up by the wall next to the post office.

I thought this was a beautiful thing to see...Boy didn't agree with me here.  And, most of the kids (6 or 7 years and younger) just ran around at the park while all the adults watched and took pictures.  It was so quiet over at the park before the music started playing for the Bon Odori.  I'm sure glad I just happened to see a post about this a couple hours before it happened!