Here’s some more snapshots of the fabulously beautiful Mitama Matsuri paper lanterns. You buy these at a special counter and the shrine will then write your name and place them around the shrine grounds on these large wooden frames. The whole image is almost breathtaking at dusk, and it looks fantastic even at night. Some of the visitors were wonderfully dressed up in traditional summer yukata, while others were just plain wonderful. I can’t wait for next years Mitama Matsuri here at the Yasukuni Shrine!
Here’s the follow up to yesterday’s post about the mitama festival at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine. I thought I had more interesting photos to put up but I must have forgotten them somewhere, oh well, I’ll add them later when I get the chance! Inside the shrine enclosure itself there is yet another set of gorgeous paper lanterns. These you buy on the premises and are even more personal, and cheaper, than the larger curved lanterns outside the shrine. Still with beautiful yellow light though. Of course there’s the ramune salesmen on hand ready to provide ice chilled ramune in plastic or glass bottles (these are plastic standard ones). The last photo is the mark of an imperial shrine, in this case a huge brass ornament on the shrine main gate.
The second to last photo is of a display at the back of the shrine, a “teaser” for what might be Japans most famous festival of all, the Nebuta Festival in northern Aomori prefecture. It is a replica of one of the famous paper and light sculptures used in that festival which attracts millions of visitors from all over the country. I haven’t actually seen it myself yet. Maybe some day.
Yasukuni shrine is still generating controversy in both Japan and abroad due to the annual visits by politicians and dignitaries. Since the shrine claims to honor the souls of all people, soldiers and civilians who died while fighting or working for the Emperor of Japan. As a result, this is the only place where even the emperor himself will bow. Naturally, not all people are happy about venerating the souls of all war dead, which includes convicted and executed war criminals. The shrine doesn’t mind nationality as well, and it currently houses the divine souls of over 50 000 non Japanese, mostly Taiwanese and Koreans, which adds to the problem as the families of some of these might not be too happy about their relative being enshrined their. So every year when the politicians go to pay their respect at the shrine there are protests from a few other countries, and if for some reason there are politicians who don’t attend, there will be protests from within Japan.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, in other words. This has led to a situation where it’s been left up to individual politicians to make up their own minds as if or when to pay their respects at the shrine with corresponding criticism from either within the country or abroad.
My personal feeling is that I love this country and the people who live here, and if this shrine honors the soul of even one righteous human being among millions, it is reason enough to go. I think it would do well for the leaders of other Asian countries to pay their respects as well, after all, forgiveness is the greatest virtue of them all. But then again, there are similar pressures on politicians in other countries and the politically correct action might not always be the most virtuous action. Thus, the cycle of madness continues.
One of the more “less” known festivals (yes I know, my English….) in Japan is the religious Mitama festival, associated with the the Shinto state religion. It is a festival to honor the spirits of dead ancestors and those who came before us and is especially celebrated at Tokyo’s national Yasukuni Shrine which focuses on the many war dead of Japan’s recent past. I have blogged a lot about Yasukuni before, if you are interested to learn more please read Boy Scouts at Yasukuni Shrine, Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Sayonara Cow and Welcome Tiger, Cherry Blossom Festival Part 1 and Part 2.
There are quite a lot of different opinions on the the real meaning of the word Mitama so today this festival is most often just referred to as みたま in the simple Japanese hiragana script. I visited this festival in mid-July and had a great time at one of my favorite shrines in Japan. Most people who visit a Yasukuni shrine festival are surprised at the very wide range of people coming there to enjoy themselves, from kids to biker gangs, office ladies to politicians and everything in between. Easily the widest range of visitors of any shrine festivals in Japan! So it’s a great place for people watching as well as to take part of the fantastic atmosphere, beautiful grand buildings, entrance free on-site museum and gorgeous garden (at the back, often missed by most visitors).
One of the more striking features of the mitama festival are the yellow colored lanterns with then names of benefactors to the shrine. I don’t remember absolutely correctly, but I think each small lantern represents a donation of about 14 000 yen, money which is used to finance the festival and the shrine’s operations. Most local businesses and many corporations across the countries donate enough to get their name on one or more of the lanterns and many private people as well. It is fun to walk around and check out the writing on the thousands of lanterns covering huge walls leading up for hundreds of meters towards the shrine. Some of the lanterns are very formal just stating family so-and-so, some are marketing ploys with the name of the company spread out over several lanterns or deployed in such a manner to visually stand out among the rest. Very subtly of course! But this year’s big benefactor was without the doubt the man behind the lanterns in the second picture, Mr. Sato! He had an entire wall, hundreds of lanterns, representing his donations. Almost everyone who walked past stopped and gaped, and most people took photos as well. Very unusual indeed. Thank you Mr. 佐藤！