Monday, March 06, 2006

Holy Burning Braziers Batman!!!

I witnessed a truly strange and fascinating spectacle last Thursday - the "Omizuokuri" ("Water-sending") festival in Obama, in southern Fukui. Probably the strangest part of the festival was watching men dressed in pointy white robes lead a procession of people carrying burning torches - I probably don't need to spell out what that reminded me of. Needless to say though, any similarity between this ancient Japanese festival and the infamous KKK is purely coincidental.
It still looked mighty weird though.
The history of the festival is even stranger: believed to be around 1,200 years old, the ritual dates back to a priest known as Jitchu Kasho. Here's a summary of the festival's history, taken from the Kansai Window website:
In the Nara period, the legend goes, Jitchu Kasho asked the gods from all parts of Japan to attend the shunie [rite] at Todaiji's Nigatsudo [a temple in Nara]. Onyu Myojin of Wakasa [now southern Fukui] arrived late for the gathering, however, because he had been busy fishing. Myojin deeply regretted his lateness and by way of apology promised to offer kozui (aromatic water) from Wakasa to Nigatsudo's principal image. With those words, a black and white cormorant (a black cormorant and a white cormorant) flew out of a rock in Nigatsudo and water began to pour forth from the rock: Wakasa water. Thus the name of the Wakasa well [in Todaiji temple] derives from this legend.
To commemorate the miraculous emergence of Wakasa water in Nara, every year the event is recreated by priests at Jinguji temple in Obama. The priests "send" the water to Nara by pouring it into the Onyu River at "Unose" (Cormorant Rapids), and 10 days later a sister festival is held at Nigatsudo, where the water is drawn up from the Wakasa Well. Obviously though, it's not the same water that was poured into the river in Obama. Or is it? Or IS it? OR IS IT?
Considering it's a water festival, it certainly featured an unhealthy amount of fire - we're talking giant bonfires and ten foot long braziers stuffed with kindling (though not the kind of braziers you're thinking of) along with hundreds and hundreds of people carrying lighted torches - think Bonfire Night, but with bigger sparklers. Luckily though, there were several men wearing helmets who were carrying batons with red, flashing lights, so I felt perfectly safe. Hooray for men in helmets with batons!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

is there anything men with lit batons and helmets can't protect us from? I think not. I remember when I got a baton and an arm band, I was king for an hour, noone parked in my parking lot.

1:24 pm  

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