Friday, 24 August 2012


Laterns say goodbye

During お盆, the spirits of deceased relatives are said to return to the world of the living for a short visit. Everyone travels back to their ancestral homes, dances are held, special foods are eaten and graves are cleaned and tended. At the end of the o-bon period, the spirits are guided back safely to the afterlife with lanterns and fires.

My favourite place to experience this is in Kyoto, where the huge words and pictures are laid out on the sides of the mountains surrounding the city are set alight.

Our cups feature the kanji for "gate", "big" and a picture of a ship.
Starbucks Kyoto decorated their cups on the day. Each mountain has a different design.
It's technically called Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火 literally "five mountain send-off fire"), but everyone I talked to called it Daimonji Yaki (大文字焼き lit. "big letter burning"). While a lot of tourists like watching the fires from scenic places like Kinkakuji, you can also rent rowing boats and enjoy the sight of the fires while lanterns drift by you and the sounds of Buddhist chanting fill the air.

 There's a lovely short video taken on the lake below. It's a shame they used music instead of letting you hear the chanting and the soft splashes of the row boats, but it still conveys some of the atmosphere.

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