Monday, October 22, 2007

Festivals of fun and flame

Yesterday Aaron and I met up with fellow Fulbrighters to go to some fetivals in Kyoto. This was our first time in Kyoto and geesh, what a town. So beautiful, so full of tradition.
The first festival we went to was called the Kyoto Jidai Matsuri meaning the Festival of Ages. Since Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 794 to 1868 (and Kyotoites are very proud of that) Kyoto basically contains all of Japan's history from those times. This festival is basically a parade of people in costume that represents a specific period of time for Kyoto. It started like this:
There were 200, count em', 200 older ladies in pretty summer kimono all dancing down the street in perfect timing. An impressive army.
Then, the parade starts, working backward from 1868 to 794 a.d. So, the first period is the Meiji restoration period.

Then it moves onto the Edo period, the time when the Tokugawa shogunates were in power. This pretty lady is dressed as Kazuno-Miya, princess Kazu, younger sister of the then Emperor Komei.

Then came the period of 1573-1614, known as the Azuchi-Momoyama period. This is when Tototomi Hideyoshi united Japan under his authority. This guy with the horns I think is supposed to be this guy called Lord Oba Nobunaga...not sure, but he has some crazy horns on his head.
Next was the Muromachi period, 1393-1572. Didn't really get any good pictures of this period.

This chick is cool though. This is from the Fujiwara period, better known as the Heian period, 897-1185. This lady is dressed as Tomoe-Gozen. Her husband was a general and when he was attacked she road into war with him dressed as a man. Alot of Japanese women look up to her because of this.

But, alot of Japanese women also look up to these two. These ladies are Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon. Lady Murasaki wrote the very famous novel The Tale of Genji, which most believe to be the first novel ever written. Sei Shonagon wrote a pillow book, which is like a public diary of sorts, that critizes court life of the Heian age, it is actually very funny.

This little cutie is from the Enryaku period, 782-806. He is dressed as a gagaku, a musician for shinto rituals with the wings of butterflys and birds.

This is from the same period as the little kid. It is some kind of sacred carriage that is suppose to house the spirit of the Emperor Komei, the last Emperor in Kyoto.

This is Aaron and I in front of the famous Kamo river in Kyoto. It has rocks shaped like turtles.

Then, after that festival was done, we crammed ourselves onto the most packed train I have EVER seen. It had only one car and I think everybody in Japan was trying to get on. Seriously, it was packed. Why? Because a small town up in the mountains that was this trains desitnation was about to set the town on fire...on purpose. Whaa..?

So, when we got to this little, tiny town, it was only about 5:00pm but the place was already full of people packing into this little place to see this festival of fire. We got some cheap noodles at a vendor then attempted to find a place to stand. But, we didn't really know what was going on, so we ended up standing in the wrong place and all kinds of cops yelling that "the fire is going to be close to you here, you might be caught on fire, eh." Thanks Mr. policeman for the help. But, we managed to not catch a flame, but we still had to deal with the pressing, jostling bodies of about a thousand+ people.
After the festival started the crowd broke up a bit and we could move around. What we saw was amazing. Every house lit up a small bondfire, while in the clearer spaces around town giant ones were lit. The wood burning was Japanese Cedar which smells sooo good. It was so crazy to see soo many fires everywhere. gets weirder.

Yes, that is a little kid with a giant torch. Part of this festivals main attraction is little kids, like 2 year olds, parading down the street with giant, flaming torches. Not kidding at all.

Why do they do this? I really don't know. We didn't learn to much about this festival before we went.

It was mezmerizing. So many little much fire.

This scantily clad man here shaking the crap out of this kids torch is one of the adult torch bearers. We thought the kids' torches were big...yah...until we saw what that guy and his friends would be carrying around.

This is the craziest thing I think I have ever seen. These guys lit up this GIANT torch right in front of us. Directly next to us...we just couldn't believe it. It took like 3 guys just to lift it into the fire.

It was just

We left the festival rather early to escape the crowd, remember only 1 friggin' train goes to this place and there was thousands of people just here for the festival. So, we left and got stuck standing up on the most crowded train ever (literally couldn't even lift my arms up due to being packed in so tight). After that ordeal we were hungry and went to a little Japanese style bar and got some really good food, it was like an egg pancake thing with noodles inside that you cook at your table. Pretty nifty.
In other news, we are trying to get internet at our house again now that we have our Alien registration cards. So, hopefully Aaron will be able to update this also.
Hope all is well back home.


Ryan said...

Do they have Halloween in japan? if they do, you guys should wear fat suits and ten gallon hats and go a Americans.

Synapscape said...

Hehe, nice blog!
We just went to the same places this year (2008) and shared almost the same experiences! The crowded trains heading toward this fire-festival for example! We took almost the same kind of pictures there. :-)
Nice to read about it in your blog also.
My blog is in German language, but maybe the pictures speak for themselves (sorry, no pics of hte firefestival online yet):
best regards