Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sky Lanterns; Sakai Summer Smile Impact 2017

Sky Lanterns; Sakai Summer Smile Impact 2017
Sky lanterns being released
The Summer Smile Impact is a free festival featuring music and fireworks at Ohama Park near Nankai Sakai station in Sakai City, south of Osaka.
Sakai is a port city and Ohama Park is a large park located between the port facilities and the main train station of Sakai.

The festival seems to have 87% of their funding goal (one million yen/$10,000) with sponsors and people who purchased sky lanterns through the website.
The festival featured about 88 vendors booths, dance music, foam canons, stage dancers, fireworks and sky lanterns.
The sky lanterns were a big draw for the event, with most of the crowds arriving around sunset. Any event with fireworks tends to draw huge crowds but this event was not too crowded. The area in front of the stage still had large open spaces making it an unusually comfortable scene.

The performers were mostly DJs playing hip-hop and electronic dance music. 
There was also a performance by a "hoop dancing" group; they performed dances with hula hoops. That group seemed to be some sort of dance school with a number of children performing.

The sky lanterns were the big novelty for the night. Sky lanterns have a long tradition in China and have been increasingly popular since they were featured in the 2010 Disney movie "Tangled" (called "Rapunzel" in Japan). There have been some concerns about the environmental impact of sky lanterns. The lanterns are traditionally made like small hot-air balloons; a paper bag with a small candle inside which produces the light and hot air. When those lanterns run out of fuel and come to the ground they leave litter and pose a fire threat if the candle is lit or if the paper lanterns catch fire.
Japan, being a country that is characteristically obsessed with cleanliness is naturally averse to such risks, altered the sky lantern design for this festival.
The sky lanterns for this festival were actually balloons (regular, latex balloons filled with helium) with paper coverings to give them the traditional look. The light inside the lanterns seems to come from some sort of flickering LED. The lanterns were also tethered with kite string. There was a countdown for the sky lanterns were "released" and at that time most people kept their lanterns tied down. The lanterns were all tethered at different lengths so they were spread out beautifully over the park. About 30% of the lanterns were simply sent adrift at the countdown.
With modern concerns about air traffic and pollution it is surprising to see enough people supporting a new form of public spectacle to initiate something like this; I am reminded of the disastrous Ballonfest '86 in Cleveland which caused major problems in America.

Below is a video clip of the famous sky lantern scene from Tangled.

The following is a photo journal from the Sakai event. You can click on any image for a full screen slideshow (when viewing the desktop version of the website).

Yatai, vendors booth, at Ohama Park.
The sky lanterns spreading out.
Visitors preparing to hoist their sky lanterns.
A vendors booth selling fidget spinners ("hand spinners").
They have been a popular item this year, let's see if they can maintain their momentum (literally and economically).
Ascending sky lanterns.
Below You can see video from the Sakai Summer Impact sky lantern release. The music being played on outdoor speakers was loud enough to enjoy even as the fireworks were bursting.

Colorful fireworks followed the start of the sky lanterns event.
The bright lights of the fireworks drown out the subtle internal lights of the sky lanterns.
The red fireworks produce a nice color in this photo.
The festival lights create a gradient background to set these lanterns against.
The smoke, atmosphere, lanterns and lens effects all add to a nice scene.
Fireworks bursts with the sky lanterns.
Hoop dancer stage show.

UK Wildcats Cafe.
A restaurant with an oddly specific theme; the University of Kentucky.
This restaurant is located across the street from Ohama Park.

The video below shows a large sky lantern release in the Mojave Desert (between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in the USA). Using a desert means that there were fewer concerns about pollution of fire, but the Sakai event was between the sea and an urban area.

The video below shows a sample of the hoop dancers performing on stage with LED hula hoops.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Upcoming Kansai Events; September 2017

Upcoming Kansai Events; September 2017

9/1. After sunset. Himuro Shrine ice lanterns. Near Kintetsu Nara Station.

9/4 (first Saturday in September). Matsunoo Hassaku Festival. Near Matsunoo Taisha station in Kyoto.

9/5. 8.8million drill; there will be a regional disaster drill and the telephone alert system will be tested, so be ready for an alarm from your cell phone.

9/10 (2nd Sunday in September). Sumo at Oharano Shrine in Kyoto. Near Katsura station.

9/15. Yoshitsune Festival. Martial arts demonstrations at at Kurama-dera near Kurama station in Kyoto.

Martial arts demonstrations at Kurama-dera.

9/16-18. World Performers Festival at Temposan. Around Kaiyukan and Temposan Market.

World Performers Festival

9/17 (third Sunday). Waraji Festival. A huge sandal is floated out to sea.

9/19-20. Ikuta Shrine Fall Festival. Near Sannomiya station in Kobe.

9/24. Solar equinox. You can see the setting sun through the gates of Shitennoji Temple.

Equinox sunset at Shitennoji Temple

9/24. A parade is held in the morning. Abeno Seimei Festival in Kyoto.

Abeno Seimemi Festival

9/24. Around sunset. Hozanji Mantou Festival.

Hozanji Temple near Ikoma station.

9/22. Takasegawa boat festival in Kyoto.

Maiko posing for photos at the Takasegawa festival in Kyoto.

9/26. Noon-2pm. Kushi Matsuri. Near Gion Shijo station in Kyoto.

9/28. Bonfire at Takidani Fudousan Temple.

September ?-?. Fiesta Mexicana at Umeda Sky Building.

Fiesta Mexicana

September ?-?. Outdoor yoga at Nakanoshima Park in Osaka.

Nishinomiya Fall Festival
Moonviewing at Sumiyoshi Shrine
Asuka village scarecrow festival
Kobe Yosakoi
Kobe Yosakoi

Kishiwada Danjiri
Kishiwada Danjiri

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Shitennoji Temple; Obon Candles

Shitennoji Urabon-e Mantou Kuyo 
四天王寺 うら盆会 万燈供養
10,000 Candle Memorial Service for Obon

Obon is a holiday in Japan. Obon is the time when people pay respects to their deceased ancestors. Many temples hold candle memorials. There are also large public events which used candles, flames and bonfires to guide spirits as they visit between worlds. 

The "okuri bi" (sending fire) is a large ritual which marks the end of Obon; involving a large bonfire, most famously the "gozan no okuribi" (five mountain sending fire) in which elaborate designs are drawn out with flames on a series of mountainsides (Nara also has a smaller version of this).

Paper candles being burned with the five story pagoda in the background.
You can see Harukasu, Japan's tallest office building, in the background.
Tsuri-dor0, hanging lanterns.
Notice the emblem of the 8-spoke wheel.
Lanterns with paper streamers.
Ropes covered with paper prayers and lanterns reflecting in the turtle pond.
Reflection in the turtle pond.
Nice colors in this one-second-exposure. Set up with a tripod and timer delay.
Incense burner in front of Shitennoji Temple.
The Obon lanterns are a temporary feature. The floodlights continue to illuminate the pagoda in the inner courtyard for some time after the doors are closed.
A rope connects the shakujo of the statue with the heavy shakujo in the forground.
Shaking the shakujo (metal staff with rings) can can cause ringing in both staffs.
Temple patrons purchase miniature figures of a Buddhist monk which sit on this shelf with the name of the sponsoring patron underneath.
There is time after sunset when the temple is only lit by candle light.
Temple visitors pray for their ancestors during Obon,
A graveyard with a chinowa, purification wreath, setup in front of a temple building.
In the foreground there is a stone post mark "hyakku dou mawari" which have a spinning wheel meant to be turned 100 times.
Long rows of lanterns ring the inner courtyard of the temple.
The flood lights are only lit from 8:30-10pm.
Lanterns hung under the eaves of the temple.
The inner courtyard of Shitennoji Temple.
The heat from all of these candles feels intense.
Paper prayer candles that burn quickly and intensely.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nara Tokae 2017

Nara Tokae 2017

Since 1999, Nara Tokae has been an annual event that is held in Nara City across several venues in which 20,000 candles are used to illuminate the landscape. The event last for 10 days in August.
The city orders about 300,000 candles (accounting for the candles that need to be relit during the event).
The city needs about 200 volunteers each night to staff the event. This year I joined the event as a volunteer. You can sign up to be a volunteer at the supporter section of the Toukae web page. I noticed that I was the only foreign name on the volunteer list and the volunteer group seemed a bit confused when I arrived (they seemed to think I was a wayward tourist).
Preparing the event consisted of two phases; first was placing the putting water in the cups (for ballast, light refraction and to later extinguish the candles). Before the second phase the volunteers are given a bento lunch/dinner. As sunset approaches the volunteers place candles in the cups and light the candles. During the course of the event volunteers patrol the grounds to relight candles.

A herd of deer pass by as volunteers prepare the candles
A large group of deer in front of one of Nara's museums.
There are about 1200 deer roaming Nara; they have been revered as messengers of the gods at Kasuga Shrine, respected by the passive monks at the many large temples and treated as a National Treasure by the Japanese government.

This asymmetrical deer is chewing on someone's map.
Please don't feed maps to the deer.
Deer relaxing on the stone monument in front of Kofukuji temple.
I like the way that these deer make the monument look like a stone throne.

Visitors wearing yukata pose for photos. As the sun sets, volunteers will begin lighting the candles..
There are several locations that each have their own groups of volunteers. This was at Kasuga Field Parkgrounds, next to Todaiji Temple.

Nara Park with lanterns and artistic bamboo decorations.
The bamboo lantern holders look like a model of a molecule and electron orbit.
Different cameras and settings give the lanterns an amber ambiance that matches the relaxed feel of being there in person.

Extended exposure for more bright and vivid night photos.
Candles arranged on the ground at Kasuganoen, a large open field next to Todaiji Temple.
Sarusawa Pond with the Kofukuji pagoda in the background.

Kasuga Taisha

A fountain at the entrance to Kasuga shrine.
The Kasuga Shrine Treasury.
The newly remodeled building has added a lot of room for artistic light displays, a special room for the huge taiko drums and a cafeteria.
The treasury houses a large number of historical artifacts, many of which are important cultural properties or national treasures; including swords and armor.

Mantou candle memorial services at Kasuga Shrine.
During the last day of Nara Tokae you can see the stone lanterns lit with candles.
This is a rare chance to see Kasuga lit like this, so expect to see huge crowds at this World Heritage Site.
People passing by combined with the flash photography of other people creates ghost-like outlines in this photo in this one second exposure.
The stone lanterns and candle-lined path near Kasuga Shrine.
Todaiji Temple
The pond in front of Todaiji temple is surrounded by candles.
The great hall holding the giant Buddha statue, the butsuden, is reflected in the pond.

The great Buddha statue is 15 meters tall (49ft.). It is flanked by two smaller (but still huge) statues of Bodhisattva.
Note the halo set as a backdrop to the Buddha statue which is ringed with 11 small (about the size of an actual human) Bodhisattva.  
During the mantou (many candles) event the windows of the butsuden are open to reveal the face of the Buddha statue to people outside.
Note the large bronze lantern (kondo-doro) in front of the temple; it has been declared a National Treasure.

The map below shows a walking guide to optimize your time when visiting the various candle venues. From Kintetsu station to the Prefectural Office, to Sarusawa Pond, to