Tag Archives: obon

Points of Light

Toki has Bon dancing on Chuo Dori before and during its fireworks. Many people watching the dancing tonight seemed hardly interested in the skypoppers in the background. Among the various colorful yukata of both dancers and watchers were these robes I though depicted the swoopdown swallows I recently wrote about, until I realized they were great blue herons flying upward. Kind of Escherian, especially considering they both frequent the Toki River.


Music for the dancing was performed by shamisen, shakuhachi bamboo flute and taiko players on a stage in the middle of the street, and emceed by a professional announcer.


Rounded domes of fireworks patterns, lanterns, ceramic fuurin wind chimes, and, here, even a passing older gentleman’s white hair populated the evening’s floating world.


On the subject of flashing points of light, I was hoping to show you photos of fireflies this summer, but they are even more elusive than I thought. Maybe next year.

And this is probably as appropriate a place as there’ll ever be for this indispensible nugget: After years of fruitless furtive roadbound glancing to see if anyone’s blinkers were in sync with mine (which futility led me to wonder if car manufacturers deliberately set every single car’s blinker timing differently so as to ensure each one stood out; two in synch and stacked in parallax could look like one, for instance), like a slap-happy syncopated lightning bug, I recently finally found visual harmony: a Suzuki Cervo ahead of me was flashing in unqualified perfect unison with my turn signal. Not some alternating in-phase, out-of-phase approximation. A lockstepped, serendipitous synchronicity, an amber alignment perchance mined from the same hunk of quartz somewhere in Brazil or backwoods Arkansas. It was sublime.


And then, as the traffic light changed, like a fleeting fireworks trail or a fuurin bell’s fading ring, or summer itself, our do-si-do dance of light was gone.

Home Fire Burning

All around town this evening, local families could be found standing and squatting around tiny ceremonial fires built to send the spirits of deceased relatives back to their afterlife abodes. These were “okuribi,” the complement to Saturday’s “mukaebi,” fires lit to usher ancestors back to Earth for their three-day Obon stay. Tajimi marks the event from July 13th to 15th, a month or so earlier than many other places. People prepare food placed at Buddhist altars in the home to feed their lost loved ones during the three day observance.


On the north end of Tajimibashi Bridge, brightly lit paper lanterns were hung to flutter in the breeze and show departed souls the way home. Ceremonial boats made of eggplant to look like horses used to be sent down rivers like the Toki to send the souls off, but they’re now banned as an environmental hazard.

At the south end of the bridge, where Oribe Street heads into the Tajimi Ginza, stalls were set up for a mini-festival atmosphere. I was working and was only able to catch a few glimpses of all the activities as I drove home. Maybe I can bring you some photos next year. The shots below are of homemade outdoor mini-shrines near work.


Tomorrow, more local ceremonies will be held to pray for good health through the summer. Several people I ran into were kind enough to explain all these traditions to me, but unfortunately I couldn’t understand everything they said.


Whatever Your Field, Ochobo Offers Professional Help

On an old recommendation (for what, I can’t remember now, and in fact I only went because I was asked to go), I took a drive to Ochobo (Chiyobo) Inari shrine over toward Ogaki city past Komaki, Iwakura and Ichinomiya yesterday. It’s a shrine for good luck in matters of business, work and jobs, particularly in merchandise and sales.


Shortly after entering the street leading to the shrine, I stopped at a little restaurant run by a former Chunichi Dragons player named Taiho. Having retired from baseball in 2003 to make a job change of his own that’s certainly a labor of love, Taiho-chan is a friendly, down-to-earth chap who’ll cook and bring your order to you, depending on what it is. Above is some handmade rectangular gyoza that needed no dipping, having plenty of its own flavoring. I also had some of his tasty kushi katsu, deep-fried breaded pork on a skewer. It’s a specialty of the area.


Above, farther down the street, protein-rich grasshoppers for sale, with apologies to David Carradine. Along with ayu (sweetfish) and catfish eateries, eel restaurants offering summer stamina dominated the length of the steamy way. It was so hot. It seemed like a bubble of humid heat was trapped in that old-timey strip. One thing I didn’t have a chance to try was the famous pork chashu at a restaurant near Taiho’s. I must mention here, I used an edge blur and color tweak effect to enhance these first three photos. Once in a while it’s appropriate.


Above, the shrine proper. Being an inari shrine, offerings of atsuage, triangular deep-fried tofu sacks on rings of straw, were available for purchase at the entrance. You lay the bag on a large tray, toss a (preferrably five yen) coin into the collection box, and pray for your workplace worries or woes to work out.

Below, accumulated atsuage is scraped off to the left from the offering tray. I guess the fried tofu bags are for scooping up good career karma like the sushi rice they normally hold*, though their fate is ironically less certain (there is a sign saying you’re free to take some for yourself, so maybe it’s not all wasted). Shrinegoers can also place small candles in a case, put their business cards in a rack to solicit divine assistance, and, after donating a coin, lift rocks for perspective on work.


Below, patrons aim to toss coins to have them land on the roof for good job fortune in the central foreground. I can think of at least one business that benefits from all this.


The shrine and the tiny village area around it seem strangely plopped in the middle of relatively large open expanses of rice fields. You wonder how it came to be.

Fields of Dreams, Or Co-oh-oh-oh-oke-lahoma!

Along the way back on east-west route 130 (which turns into route 67), I saw some truly towering lotus plants, high as an elephant’s eye, and very nearby, a patch of hundreds of Coke vending machines sitting inexplicably (like Ochobo Inari itself) in an open field. The bizzarreness just begged mentioning (unfortunately I wasn’t in photo-op mode).

On this road, the entire Inazawa plain area between the Kiso River and Kiyosu, also encompassing Tsushima, verily abounded with plants, shrubs, and trees of all kinds. They’re all raised for sale to local gardeners and landscapers. The soil is fertilized by the nutrient-rich Kiso River.

This week being the peak of the Obon summer vacation season, traffic was patchy, but even what would normally be the evening rush hour didn’t slow me down much.

*Update: The animistic Shinto god of inari shrines is a fox, and foxes have a predilection for atsuage.

Further Update (September 1): Maybe about the time I reached Komaki Airport, Venus was coming out from under the moon’s crescent thumbnail. News of the occultation escaped my attention, but maybe somewhere in the corner of my eye, I fancifully imagine I caught it. I remember seeing my neighbor photographing the crescent moon, but I don’t think that can have been the same day.

A Twinkling, Screaming, Popping, Sparkling, Booming High Point of Summer

No, if you read the title expecting more, this unfortunately wasn’t last night’s date; It was Toki’s fireworks festival, also marking the end of the bon dances in front of Toki Station.


Above, a mother-and-child (I think) dance performance entertains early-arriving onlookers.

The sign below seems to say it’s omelette yakisoba. Anyway, it was one big, pernicious, plopping pile of noodle that oozed and begged for a shutter-clicking. Other usual-suspect temptations offered on Yatai Way ranged from frozen cucumbers on a skewer to takoyaki, yakitori, and candied apples, crêpes, and chocolate-covered bananas.


I’d think these vendors mostly manage to keep a slim physique by not eating their own confections hustling for your yen under heat-trapping awnings, setting up scaffolding from one town to the next with the greatest of efficiency.

People started grabbing viewing spots along the Toki River before sunset. In the background below is Ceratopia.


It struck me, though I may be forcing the issue like a college sophomore eager to please a professor and his/her grand, sweeping assertions (or like a professor carried away with a fanciful sense of elegance), that fireworks (especially when you try to capture them in a photo) are another example of the especially Japanese-appreciated evanescence of life, embodied in a group-beheld spectacle, like the fluttering landward paratrooping of sakura petals, or, more privately experienced, but still by all, the brief burst of a locust’s life and its inevitable ignominious but unapologetic darting death.

Flowery language, I admit. But this is flower-fire, by way of translation. And I am a certified, frustrated, never-was (but never-fired!) professor of sociolinguistic anthropologicalistic expialidocious poppycock. Class (which was never really an issue anyway) dismissed.


As a bonus, I even sniffed the faint scent of smoke drifting my way as I snapped pictures of the crackle and pop. Another quintessential fleeting floating world sensation…

Lighting It Up

There was a little stall-type festival along Nagase dori today, apparently marking Gion, the beckoning of departed souls of loved ones and ancestors back to their earthly homes. People will light small mukaebi fires outside their front doors Friday night to show the spirits the way.

Despite working in beautiful more-or-less downtown Tajimi for over four years, I’d missed this one until now. Maybe it always comes on a weekday? Or perhaps being limited to Nagase dori was the issue. Anyway, good times.


The majority of revellers were young people – junior high or elementary school kids, some in yukata, enjoying themselves and the bustling atmosphere. Red paper lanterns with bamboo fronds lit the way.


Later, some folks lit up small fireworks on the banks of the Toki River.

Obon Rush Roulette

Traffic has been hit and miss during the Obon holidays, often being heavier than usual, but in some parts of central Tajimi, lighter. Like at a carnival game at a summer county fair, you take your chances.

So many people have loaded up their cars (or “camping cars”) or had kayaks or other sporting goods mounted on roof racks. A sight we take for granted on US roads, but it seems like here they must wait all year to use those racks just this once.


Hotels like Route Inn in Toki, above, may be filling up fast.

A friend’s post of a photo of a gigantic ice cream cone in snowy New Zealand brought a little cooling relief, but it’s still hot even as the sky has gotten dark. It got up to at least 36 today (bridge temperature in Toki).

Last night’s ISS sighting prompted me to check when there are others. There should be one tonight at 8:56 pm.

Bon Fire


This evening’s sunset began with this unusual glow, progressing to a more copper-tinged look.


A couple of people mentioned there was a festival going on today, probably bon-related, near Tajimi station. The bon season seems to take so many different dates depending on exactly where you are, but it does seem to have begun.

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