kyoto missive 5
|Night of the flaming kanji
Last night (Saturday) was the one night of the year (during this O-Bon festival week) that they set on fire the enormous kanji (chinese characters) on the mountains surrounding Kyoto. I think that there are five of them; one big DAI (shaped like the kanji for "big") and a few smaller ones, including the one over Daikokuten (the temple complex where i lived).
Rob and i grabbed some convenience food and headed to the river bank to watch the lighting of the kanji. So did several thousand other people, and the area was completely packed with people of all ages, ancient folks and yelling toddlers. Some people brought preposterously large and complicated cameras, and the glare of flashes was quite disorienting in the gathering dark.
Finally the kanji lighted, and people clapped and immediately turned around to go home - all at once. The streets were packed with solid human.
Rob and i made our way to our bikes and set out toward the northern part of town, to see if we could see the other kanji as well, but by the time we got there they had been put out (apparently they don't burn for very long). On a whim i decided to revisit the hill with my old kindergarten on it, since it has a view overlooking Kyoto and the moon was full.
When we got there, we heard the sounds of singing and temple drums (taiko) coming from the school. It turns out that a festive occasion was in full swing, the yard was hung with lighted lanterns and packed with people, marching in a circular procession with fans, singing and drumming. Male and female choruses were in the circle, and i recognized the refrain of "namu yo ho, ren ge kyo" repeated throughout. In the very center were two large drums, being ceremonially (not aggressively) beaten.
I thought it was really wonderful that the community could have such an occasion to gather; that people of all ages were involved throughout, and i realized that my recent interest in taiko drumming was probably not my first exposure to them :)
Tomorrow morning i leave to return to California, and i'm really going to miss Kyoto. I'll miss Rob, a great new friend, and i'll REALLY miss the food. I'm going to have to find some musubi and zarusoba and mochi and pocari sweat SOMEWHERE when i return :)
See y'all soon,