My next cultural immersion exercise would allow me to learn about the culture of Japan and Okinawa. Making detailed notes of bus routes and timetables, I left in search of a Bon Festival. I had no idea what a Bon Festival was, but I was determined to find out.
I arrived at a small senior center parking lot lined on one side with various food stands, two other sides lined with fold out chairs and in the middle of the parking lot there was a large tower. Kimonos were everywhere. Japanese music was being played by loudspeakers and elderly individuals sat watching the crowd trickle in for the festival.
A Bon Festival is a Japanese Buddhist celebration that commemorates the sacrifices made by deceased ancestors. There are colorful lanterns, all sorts of yummy dishes and kimono clad dancers move gracefully around the yagura (tower like structure) to the beat of drums and japanese flutes. I snapped photos, watched the dancers and politely retired back home.
A few days later I headed out to the Okinawan Festival. Now apparently from what I hear Okinawa is a part of Japan, but Okinawans take offense when mistaken for being Japanese. I have made mental notes to investigate this further.
The festival was gigantic! There was a center stage hosting a continuous line of cultural performances, including choreographies and instrumental presentations. Many cultural exhibits were on display including bonsai tents, orchid galleries, calligraphy instructors and traditional apparel vendors.
I watched children practice origami, performers stretch their muscles and festival goers slurp noodles. I had a gentleman write out ‘Chef Chandler’ in beautifully brushed letters, all the while smiling at how my name is always confusing in other cultures. The gentleman had to consult with fellow writers at his booth until they could figure out how to spell my name in Japanese.
I stopped at a Hachimaki station where volunteers from the Japanese cultural center were helping people customize the cloth headbands with themed stamps and different colored ink. It was supposed to be only one hachimaki per person, but I asked if I could make one for each of my younger sisters and of course… myself!
Then I noticed some little ghostlike puppets hanging from a tent and was drawn to get a closer look. Harmless enough, the little dolls gave me an omnious sensation. I inquired about them and it turns out they are good luck charms to chase away rainy days, there is even a nursery rhyme to match… but the story behind them is a bit spooky. Legend has it, a monk once promised farmers to stop the rain and bring sunny weather for their crops. When he failed to do so, they killed him.
I thought this an odd choice of subject matter for a nursery rhyme, but hey, I am all about sharing cultural tidbits. So readers, here is the “Teru Teru Bozu’ doll nursery rhyme, for your reading pleasure:Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu Do make tomorrow a sunny day Like the sky in a dream sometime If it’s sunny I’ll give you a golden bell ~~~ Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu Do make tomorrow a sunny day If you make my wish come true We’ll drink lots of sweet sake ~~~ Teru-teru-bozu, teru bozu Do make tomorrow a sunny day but if it’s cloudy and I find you crying Then I shall snip your head off
So your cultural lesson for today is: The Japanese and Okinawans have a rich and colorful history. Their choreographies portray stories in beautiful and carefully selected dance moves. Their food is delicious and filling. They pay homage to their ancestors and put great value on nature and life’s little details.
Whatever you do though… Don’t promise to stop the rain!
Until next time…