"And it Burns, Burns, Burns..."

Growing up in the States means growing up with constant reminders of fire safety, fire drills and Smoky the Bear's voice ingrained in my skull. I don't know about you, but I always thought you weren't supposed to play with fire, let alone run through the streets with a torch on your back. Needless to say it was pretty exhilarating to arrive at Kurama and see the streets a lite with flame. We biked from Downtown where we saw the Jidai Maturi up to Kurama mountain. Most people take the train but since Kurama is a small village and the festival is quite popular you can expect to wait a long time for a train. Someone had advised us to take our bikes and it wasn't an easy bike ride, but it was well worth it. I was especially psyched when we went to leave and we were just able to coast on home.Anyways, we arrived at the base of Kurama, parked our bikes and started walking up the main road towards the festival. The air smelled like smoky pine and all of the houses were decorated or had someone tending a flame outside of them.
Many families opened up their front rooms and displayed old treasures, such as this armor.
The locals gathered around the houses and got these large torches ready while some of the younger children and their parents walked up and down the road with smaller ones. While carrying the flames people would chant "Saya, Sairo" which means "festival, good festival." It's sort of a walking chant like "one, two, one, two."
The men preparing to carry the torches wore loin clothes and these decorative sleeves that mimicked tattoos. A lot of them wore headbands or sashes and some had these skirts. Most of them also had traditional sandals and socks on. It wasn't freezing out but it was the end of October. I wouldn't want to be running around without pants on.
This guy is lighting the small torch so he can ignite the much larger one behind him. These larger torches require at least 4-5 men to carry them and are made from pinewood, probably from the local trees.
I'm not sure how important the original meaning of this festival is to the people living here now, but the act of passing on this tradition to future generations does seem very important. Even as a foreigner this point is evident with the participation of different generations. Everyone from small children to elderly men are given a part to play.
Local people and tourists watching while younger children hold much smaller torches. Many of the younger children were dressed up for the occasion in beautiful kimono.
The Festival starts at around 6 pm and goes on as late as 12.
Close up of men carrying torch by the crowd. The bearing of the torches is done by the strong and younger men.
This is what the torch looks like, its made up of much smaller branches and tied together with these big roots or vines. It smelled delicious.
This man is getting ready to carry a flame, I was trying to get some good butt shots, but he kept moving. Probably because it was cold out.
My buddies and I hanging out by the large bonfires reviewing photos and waiting for the action to begin.
Father and son carrying a torch.
We tried to find a good spot on the street to watch from but we kept getting moved along by the police. Originally the festival was to scare bad spirits or kami out of the area. It is said that the king of the tengu lives on this mountain. The tengu depicted on Kurama have large red noses, they are said to do all kinds of horrible things like abduct children.
Older men carrying rope and flames.
This festival was so different from the one we had seen earlier in the day. Jidai Matsuri was all about presentation and beauty. This festival was so much more representative of the basic beliefs of the Japanese people. It was really fun to experience the Japanese in a situation like this that allowed them to cut loose a little. Honestly, it feels that little of this festival has changed over the years and I think that alone makes it unique.
This guy is balancing the torch on his shoulders and holding on to the roots to keep it there. Wow!
Fire! We need more fire!!!
In case you couldn't tell, I had a hard time photographing the whole night. I somehow forgot that my camera's one weakness is low lighting, especially paired with fast movement. I still managed to get a bunch of shots I was happy with. This one gives you a good sense of how fast some of these men were running by with the torches.
This group is much slower coming down the road and they are struggling with this torch.
Hee hee! I can see his butt!
It was pretty exciting when these guys dropped the torch right in front of us. It was equally impressive how fast others were able to step in and assist. Do you think they practice?
At some point the procession seemed to move up the mountain so we walked further along and watched as other people carried large instruments like this. When they walked it would clang kind of like a bell. There were also very large drums that were played by women and people chanting to the beat.
They started to gather around this bend in the street and letting the torches burn while they held them in place. It was like watching a giant ice cream cone melt, except with fire.
Then many of the torches were stood up on their ends like this. This position was not so great, because it allowed the burning embers to fall and hit the guys holding onto the torch. Does this image can give you a good sense of scale?

The locals were adorned in these orange sashes and this allowed them behind the police tape lines and to interact more directly with the fire.

If you look closely you can see people still holding up the torches as they burn and the smoke is starting to build up.
Fire!
Other people walked around with ladles of water, just in case. They controlled where the fire was burning and help the torch bearers keep an eye on the flame.
It was very crowded in this part of the street but we all stood their watching, waiting to see what would happen next.
It continued to get really smokey and the festival carried on feeling very primal at times with the men struggling together to hold up these large torches of fire.
The street was absolutely littered in ember and bits of wood.
There was quite a lot of smoke and they continued further up the mountain towards the shrine. The crowd was allowed to follow, but only so far. We watched for awhile as the men carried a portable shrine down the mountain as well as other men who were sort of crowd surfing. At this point we were all starting to get cold so we made plans to head back. Unfortunately, the police wouldn't let anyone move for half an hour or so. Finally we were freed and able to walk to our bikes. We biked back down the mountain which was significantly easier then the way up. The lines for the train were very long and I've heard that in can take hours to get back from this festival.
What did I learn? I think we've been approaching fire safety all wrong. The key to being safe with fire is starting kids with small torches at a young age, gradually giving them larger and larger torches. When one is deemed a fully responsible adult then, and only then should they be given a gigantic torch to carry. It's also important that the bare minimum of clothing is worn, this ensures that attention is paid to what they are doing. Otherwise your likely to get a nasty burn... ouch.

Fall is Fierce

It's the end of October and Fall is finally here; the leaves are changing colors, the vending machines are stocked with warm beverages and I froze my ass off biking down a mountain from the Fire Festival at Kurama. It was an eventful day with Jidai Matsuri in the morning and Hi Matsuri at night. I took a lot of great photos and enjoyed the spectacle of it all.
I shot over 800 photos throughout the day so its going to be hard to narrow them down... I'm gonna try.
The Jidai Matsuri is known as one of the "big three" festivals of Kyoto. The festival is a procession of clothing representing the different historical eras which Kyoto was the capital of Japan. (794-1868)

 

First up is the Royal Army of the Meiji Restoration. This movement was made up of young farmers who volunteered themselves to team up with the Royal Forces against the Shogun.

 

Patriots of the Meiji Revolution: this guy has a green train!

Then we have the Edo period (1600-1868): a lot of these women are dressed up as specific famous women from history. This lady above is dressed as a famous dancer.
Close up of Edo ladies with cool hats, the head wraps kind of reminds me of Star Wars.

These are images from the procession of Toyotami Hideyoshi, a very important figure in Japanese history. Hideyoshi implemented the practice that only samurai had the rights to bear arms, he built the Osaka castle and had a large influence over the Japanese tea ceremony.

He unified Japan under a single authority, but was never shogun.

I think this guy is from Lord Oda Nobunaga's entry into Kyoto. Lord Oda Nobunaga was a powerful feudal lord and came to assist in the reconstruction of the city. He successfully repaired the Imperial Palace and brought peace to the citizens.

More guys from Lord Oda Nobunga's procession... I think. I love that blue!

Whats in the box? Maybe presents!

I think now we are getting into the Muromachi period (1388-1573) These people are representing the triumphant entry of General Kusunoki Masashige into Kyoto. When the Emperor Godaigo was returning to Kyoto, this General who was very devoted to the Emperor went to Hyago to welcome him back.
I can't get over the beautiful armor these men wear.

 

Or these bright blue outfits either.

A pause in the parade gave me time to get a nice still.

Also a close up of this guys outfit... Who doesn't appreciate a good floral pattern?

Mini gongs,as you can probably tell there wasn't a lot of performance involved in the festival. The gongs and some of the wooden instruments were played while the participants walked.

Wooden stick instruments and colorful socks!

Women of the medieval ages would come up to the city to sell bundles of fire-wood and flowers on their heads.

 

Biggest umbrella ever! Did you know that only two things frequently get stolen in Japan? Bicycles and umbrellas. Bicycles because drunken business men take them when they need a lift home. So it's important to never leave yours unlocked, umbrellas because the Japanese use umbrellas in all weather; sun, rain and snow. You will actually see umbrella locks at crowded places....

More men in multi patterned outfits with armour and swords. I totally dig it.

That hat looks really heavy though.

 

For the most part the horses seemed very nervous or downright unhappy about being in the parade. A few times I thought I was going to see someone get tossed.

Traditional weapons, shoes, armor and hats. The parade started near us at Kyoto City hall and ended at Heian Jingu Shrine. We had a great view of the festival from where we are but it probably wasn't as picturesque as having the Shrine in the background.

These ladies with clothes on their heads are from Katsura in the west outskirts of Kyoto, they would go into the city and sell fish and vegetables.

Here is the wife of Toyotami Hideyoshi, her name is Lady Yodo.

Then we have the Kamakura period (1192-1333) with many members of the Yabusame archers.

They are wearing deer skin on their legs to stay warm as these are their traveling clothes.

Next we are onto the Fujiwara period (897-1185) Less patterned outfits...

An archer with an exquisite hat.

Then is from the Heian Period (794-1185) This is Tomoe-Gozen, her husband was a general and she fought by his side wearing male armor. Maybe this inspired Mulan?

Women from the same era with outfits that seem very Chinese inspired.

I think the children look kind of creepy with their faces painted this way, like giant dolls that have come to life.

There were outfits like these throughout the parade for they were a traditional clothing for the common people.

More court nobles, wearing different colors according to their rank.

more blue!

This child has the wings of a butterfly and an imaginary bird called a karyo-binga. It says these outfits are worn in Shinto rituals by the children and they are called gagaku.

Anyways, I thought they looked great.

Then we have the sacred carriages; one for Emperor Komei, the last ruler of Kyoto. The other is for Emperor Kanmu the Emperor who moved the capital from Nagaoka to Kyoto. They are attended by priests from the shrine.

This guy's glare is intense.

Some more people from the procession, clad in pink and carrying large lanterns?

I have no idea what he's carrying but it reminds me of a lollipop.

Phew, that's it, that's all I'm posting! As you can see people of all ages participated in the parade and foreigners and the locals lined the streets to catch a glimpse and to photograph the annual procession of Jidai Matsuri. I tried my best to include a lot of my favorite costumes and to put them in order, which was quite a challenge.

The Festival ended and my buddies and I made our way to a ramen place for some quick lunch and then hopped back on our bikes so that we could catch the Hi Matsuri at night in Kurama.

Coming up... Fire, nudity and biking a mountain! What's not to like?

Heian-Jingu dance party!

Last weekend it was my goal to: make it to Nijo-jo before closing time, shop at Uniqlo and eat some sushi! I managed to get all of these things done and photograph the student festival at Heian-jingu as well. Victo and I biked down to the shrine, met up with some friends and checked out the festivities.

The festival was made up of students ranging in age from Primary school to College. They carried in floats representing their schools and performed dance routines, some traditional and others more modern.
These students were decked out in Halloweenish colors. Midway through the dance they pulled down the top parts of their outfits to reveal orange shirts underneath. This stripping reveal seemed to be a popular move with a lot of the other teams as well. Many of the traditional dances were performed with these wooden blocks. The blocks remind me Spanish dancers with castanets. 

A large number of the dances were also narrative or had specific characters. These girls were cat dancers. They prowled around with catlike movement and wore these funny masks.
The dance teams were made up of both men and women. For the most part everyone wore the same outfit. I was very impressed to see so many Japanese guys in floral prints or pink, but I guess that's just something that I find surprising as a westerner.
Everyone also had special dancing shoes. I really like these tabi style ones, don't they look like ninja turtle feet? Most of the costumes were so inventive and interesting with strong traditional influences.These outfits seem really anime influenced to me. This dance had a narrative too, some sort of love story with a man giving a woman a flower. This team only had a few boys though so I think some of the girls on the team also danced the boy part.

These were some of my favorite outfits and dance group... but hey I'm a sucker for green and sparkly gold bows.

I just thought these outfits were really clever with the types of movements they were performing. I love seeing the bit of the red pants when they leap or kick their legs up. These costumes didn't impede their movements and created beautiful silhouettes.
Right? And you can see the Heian Shrine in the background too!

This group was an all girl group, they were loud and reminded me a lot of cheerleaders. They started out with white tops and these horrible pink/blue sheer sleeves. About half way through they performed the strip move to reveal these bizarre black bean shaped breast plates... I don't really get it, but I enjoyed watching them dance.

We watched some more dancing by some of the younger students and took a break to find a snack.

I split a cup of these with Victo. They served these little balls in a cup and you got your choice of strawberry or chocolate. (shyocolato) on top. The batter was a pretty basic batter, not too sweet and I liked watching them cook these. We also got some takoyakior balls like this but with octopus on the inside. Those were also delicious, but I ate them before I could get a photo... yum!

We walked through the games area of the festival and I couldn't help but photograph this group. I love the outfits!

I saw a group playing duck,duck, goose! Did you know that duck, duck, goose is only played in the US? One night I was comparing childhood games/songs with some of the Europeans and as it turns out they had never played duck, duck, goose. The other American and I made everyone get in a big circle in the middle of the park late at night and play. Many of the Europeans deemed the game unfair... haha. It was a lot of fun. Also, you can just barely see the very large torii behind the park, this designates the entrance to the shrine.

 

Stuffed koala moonbounce. Something about this really disturbs me, can you guess what it is?
We left the festival to check out the shrine before closing. There were still lots of dancers milling around in their fabulous costumes.

They were nice enough to humor us by posing in front of the shrine.

This is the entrance of the shrine and is called a shimenawa. These large ropes and zigzag paper strips marks the boundaries of a sacred space. The other way to tell you are at a Shinto Shrine is the large torii that is usually painted bright orange at the entrance to the shrine. You can barely make it out behind the kids playing duck, duck, goose.
Inside the shrine is the main offering hall. People come here and make offerings of money and pray. People visit shrines for lots of different reasons. Shrines are a popular place to visit at the start of the New Year, for festivals, weddings and when babies are born.
At first I didn't realize that this tree had paper tied to its branches. These are fortunes or omikuji, they are bought at the shrine and have various fortunes in them from very good; daikichi to very bad; daikyo. You unfold one and see what your fortune is, then you tie it to this tree. If its a good fortune it will come true and if its bad it will be averted.
Here's a shot of some school children hanging out by the inner part of the shrine. All of the school kids wear uniforms here. I guess its also normal for them to go hang out in large groups at shrines. I can't imagine kinds hanging out at churches casually in the states, but maybe that's me.
These wooden plates you can purchase at the shrine are called ema. Visitors write their hopes on the plates and leave them to come true. People often wish for success in business, good health, passing entrance exams, wealth or love.

The sun was setting and the light made everything look beautiful within the walls of the shrine.

So naturally Victo and I kept taking candid and posed photos of each other and the boys too. We were both wearing new stuff we bought in Japan. I was wearing my new Uniqlo skirt and some leopard print leggings. Now I look so Japanese! But doesnt Victo look cute? I don't think she realized I was taking a photo.

 

 

Then we made the guys line up and do a model shot.... classic
We had to leave because they were having the closing ceremonies here and we didn't have tickets. But, we did check out this band warming up. I don't even know what to say about this outfit. Haight-Ashbury meets Japan?

Then we biked a little farther south to Shijo for the much anticipated sushi dinner. The river is still crowded at sunset because it's only just starting to feel like Fall. But hey, I'm not complaining!
All along the river were couples sitting together almost perfectly spaced. It really made me miss Robin : (

Of course I felt much better once we got our delicious chirashi bowls! A bunch of us got the same one cause it was a great selection just for 980 yen and a free miso soup with our student ID's! Yumm what a great day!