Obon, the Dance of the Dead (Japanese Festival)


In the village square, Chinese lanterns and fireflies cast a ghostly glow over the tightly packed shops and houses along the narrow avenue. The sound of clapping hands and beating drums draw you toward a drum tower, situated just below the elevated train station. Atop it, men and boys, dressed in dragon coats, with matching scarves tied around their heads, slam mallets against the sides of drums both large and small.

Dressed in colorful yukata of cherry blossoms, soaring white cranes, and glittering fans with ribbons, women dance in a circle around the drum tower as they sway to the hypnotic “dance of the dead.” Their flowing hands and the drums’ beat call for the dead to arise and join in the celebration, as the spicy scent of cooked sausage floats on the jasmine breeze.

In the willow trees that grow along the street cicadas creep from their brittle shells. The lure of their castanet song adds to the intoxicating beat. The dancers, the drum tower and the crowds of people seem to swirl and bob around you, like a magical dream.

To your surprise, someone whispers in your ear, words from Matsu Basho, master haiku poet.

“Temple bells die out.

The fragrant blossoms remain.

A perfect evening!”

You turn to find a pair of smoldering eyes, like polished jade, gazing into your own. A white prayer scarf, painted with red kanji calligraphy, wraps the apparition’s ashen forehead, pulling long black hair away from its ghostly face and neck.

You stare, dumbfounded as people stroll by, unaware that “something” not of this world, stands in front of you. A small boy, twirling a plastic pin wheel, walks straight through the apparition’s chest. The image flickers as if it might go out like a candle flame as the ghostly image bows respectfully toward you.

“Moonlight and magic,” you whisper. Your thoughts swarm like bees in the summer heat, so fast you can hardly grasp their meaning.

The sharp pounding of the barrel taiko yanks your attention back toward the drum tower. Everything around you seems to spin in slow motion and then tilt-a-whirl fast making you so dizzy you almost lose your balance.

When the spinning stops, you find the apparition has disappeared. You shake your head and walk away, whispering beneath your breath, “It was only a dream.”

Further reading:

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: Bon Festival http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival

You Tube: Traditional Japanese Obon dance http://is.gd/aSQUEy

You Tube: KODO – Heartbeat Video 2007 http://is.gd/0ktCPX

Sample chapters from LEGEND OF THE CHERRY JEWEL, a romantic, fantasy, action-adventure set in feudal and modern-day Japan http://lediarunnels27221912.wordpress.com/

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