Bon-Odori festival, Warabi, August 2, 2003: click for gallery

Saturday evening there was a local festival a few blocks from where we live, so we strolled on over there to check it out. It turned out to be a Bon-Odori, or Bon Dance festival. The modest festival was held in a dirt lot across from a kindergarten (perhaps a parking lot by day?), but it could’ve been a large boat rocking back and forth on a river in a Suzuki Harunobu woodblock print for all I knew. That is to say, there was something ethereal, something dreamlike, about the evening.

The colored lanterns, they stay with me now a couple of days removed. I don’t know what it was about them, but even now I’m hard-pressed to think of a more beautiful image than the strings of cylindrical shaped paper lanterns in blues and oranges and greens and reds that ascended from the four corners of the lot up to the central tower structure, forming their own kind of open-air tent. That’s appropriate, perhaps, for in the midst of this traditional Japanese event I couldn’t help but think back to the carnivals and state fairs of my childhood in Hawaii. And perhaps deep down there was something resonating with the Obon festivals of the Japanese-American community in Hawaii, though I honestly don’t really remember going to any of those when I was a kid. But maybe I did, and the latent memories were called up the other night. Who knows?

Sadly, the digital camera was not able to capture the colors of the lanterns as I saw them, but perhaps that just adds to the dream. The evening became even more magical when we discovered that from where the festival was, we had a clear view of the fireworks being launched over the Arakawa River at the dual Todabashi and Itabashi Fireworks festivals. A bit too far for the digital, but I managed to grab a few half-decent shots, thanks to a relatively unimpeded view.

Fireworks booming down this way, Bon music and Taiko drums resounding down this way, it occurred to me that perhaps I was at a nexus of something that was uniquely of Japan, yet connected to flickering memories and resonances particular to me. While I chose not to participate, but rather to photograph and observe from the periphery, I still felt not on the outside looking in, but rather a part of the festivities, in my own way. Kind of like those beautiful lanterns making the shape of a tent in my imagination, but a tent not enclosed, and not smothering.

(Click on the photos for the gallery.)

Arakawa river fireworks, viewed from Warabi, August 2, 2003: click for gallery


4 Responses to A night under a tent of lanterns, open enough for me

  1. juriaan says:

    Don’t be so modest. That isn’t ‘a half-decent shot’ of the fire works, it is excellent.

  2. GMan says:

    I don’t want to ruin your appreciation of Obon, I still love Japanese matsuri, but I would though you might like to know that at most festivals in Japan, all those lanterns that look so cool to you and me have company / sponsership names on them so if like a normal Japanese person your eyes were more accustom to reading kanji than romanji you’d each lamp would say things like “gap”, “zest”, “tower records”, “seibu”, “tokyu hands”, “takashimaya” etc.. Seeing those as they are would probably take away some of the charm 🙁 If you look close you can probably read the katakana ones.

  3. Kurt says:

    GMan, actually while what you say is definitely true for the bigger festivals, there weren’t any corporate sponsored lanterns at this particular Bon-Odori festival. The lanterns at this festival either read 郷町会 (ごうちょうかい or gouchoukai / local town block association) or 和楽美会 (わらびかい or Warabi-kai / Warabi being the name of our city, the lantern playing on the readings of the kanji for harmony, fun, and beautiful to spell out the city name — whether this city if harmonious, fun, or beautiful is another thing entirely. Hah! False advertising :)).

  4. Kurt says:

    I’ve uploaded some scans of the 35mm color print film I shot this same evening, which does more justice to the color of the lanterns (and if you’re so inclined, let’s you read the kanji printed on them :). Start here and go forward a few shots.

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