The petite, pretend princess, self-consciously plays with the coil of rope in her lap while her eight or nine year old eyes dart to the left every few seconds. Her lips are red lacquer painted on porcelain and her red kimono is folded like an origami crane around her shoulders. She does not move as thousands of flashes are set off in her direction. Her eyes alternate between timid and strong and her little toes curl over her wooden sandals. She is the first of three princesses in the parade and she is finally coming home.
The story goes that a mere portrait of the aforementioned young lady was enough to have one of the emperor’s sons travel all the way from the capitol Nara to the city of Usuki to marry this vision and live happily, if not forever after. You see the prince left his bride behind to give birth to their baby girl and went on ahead to wait for her but as is usually the case with stories that inspire festivals, the princess did not make it through the tragic storm that blocked her way and so every year thousands of bamboo lanterns are lit to guide the lost girl back home.
Red, green, yellow, white and blue carved bamboo lanterns are put up all over Usuki city and if you asked me a few years ago where I think I would be on the 6th of November 2010, I would not have replied with, climbing an ancient, castle stairway lined with flickering fires, muted by paper and bamboo. My word, it is atmospheric, you don’t even notice the new chill in the air as you look over the castle wall at foxes and flowers built with light.
|Still had my old camera so instead I stole this superior pic from a friend Her blog|
|One of the stone Buddhas.|
|This photographer captured the feeling well.|
Our lack of a sense of direction and confusing Japanese road signs had other ideas however and before we knew it we were back on the road of death, only now in streetlight devoid darkness with only those scary trees drawn by Walt Disney to keep us company. I was still halfway through a fast moving complaint when we just stopped. There on the left side of the road, looking straight at us stood a rare, Japanese, wild boar (the same one from princess Mononoke) and her four little piglets. It was absolutely surreal as the five of them with no real haste trotted back into the forest leaving us both speechless and then talking nonstop for the rest of the journey. It was unnerving and enthralling, almost religious but then at the same time it was only five little pigs standing by the side of the road. I don’t really understand why we were so surprised by this scene but either way we were both glad that we had gotten a little lost in the woods.