こんにちはみなさん！Hello everyone, let me tell you about a wonderful experience I had while studying in Japan so far. Me and my girlfriend Yuki heard about this light festival that happens every October to celebrate a bountiful harvest. During this festival people in the small village of Usuki light up thousands of carved bamboo shoots. There is a old story about the return a ghostly princess who returns every year at this festival and the local people reenact this event. The bamboo shoots are meant to ensure the ghost princess can find her way home. People on the main street also set up market stalls that sell local handicrafts and foods like fugu sake. For those of you who don’t know, fugu is the deadly pufferfish which the Japanese had found a way to clean in a particular way as to make it safe to eat. On the train to Usuki from Oita we fortunately ran into two of Yuki’s friends Hiroki and Take. Take is actually a local of Usuki and has worked as a tour guide there. Luckily for us she offered to show us her village and was eager to explain to us the local traditions.
First we went to the most prominent temple where legend holds that a dragon is imprisioned within the main pagoda. Take explained to us that several of the demon statues called Oni guard the dragon and keep it from escaping. We also visited her family’s baking stall and bought some delicious english tea cake. After following the trail of lit bamboo shoots we scaled Usuki Castle to get a great view of the whole town. I learned that the famous Sengoku period daimyo, Otomo had constructed this castle which was formerly situated on an island. My inner nerd came out and I couldn’t help but imagining this town with samurais and women in their traditional kimono’s strolling around. Luckily for me my fantasy was about to come true as the locals were going to reenact the “return of the ghost princess”. We witnessed the a procession of flute players dressed as ancient court attendants and the princess dressed in a pale white kimono being carried on top of an ornate litter. We could all feel the peaceful serenity of the moment and I’m pretty sure everyone had goose bumps from hearing the soothing flute music. We also were able to see traditional harp playing and wadaiko (drum dancing).
Throughout my travels I have realized that certain culture festivals seem more like shows put on more for the tourists than the locals. In the Takeyoi festival I was one of the very few foreigners and got the sense that the night was sacred to the people of Usuki and not a show for tourists. It is incredible to me how Japan has so many contrasts between old and new customs. Many people think of samurai and the medieval period when they picture Japan, others picture robots and anime. It is interesting and admirable to me how Japanese society is constantly evolving but also successfully maintains it’s rich cultural heritage and identity.