Saturday, November 6, 2010

Too many tea-candles!

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
I think I spotted almost every JET in Oita chatting and taking photos of all the little lights. After saying hi, Roland and myself set off on our usual culinary adventure, but we have not exactly been big winners this week as we ordered two plates of fried stomach by mistake, hot on the heels of Roland accidently munching some whale this last Thursday. Oh many free Willy jokes were made but Roland did not find any of them particularly amusing. We did however score some tasty festival food in the end and went to the Japanese version of the Spur for a waffle when we got back home. As we climbed our familiar steps Roland voiced his concern as to whether his stomach will be able to digest the stomach he tried earlier.

One of the stone Buddhas.
Even before going to the festival Roland and I took in some local sites and went to go see the famous stone Buddhas carved out of the mountain. As we hiked up the path lined with towering bamboo and covered with leaves, Roland tried as always to scare me with ghost stories, although this time incorporating a Japanese flair and as always, as we hiked down the mountain he spent his time saying “ok sorry, please don’t be mad, I won’t pretend I heard a scary little girl laughing in the distance again”.

This photographer captured the feeling well.
Instead of saddling up our favorite beast of burden, the ever exhilarating train, we rather gave “ouma” some running shoes and took our little Honda for a brisk walk up a mountain pass. It is just not Japan! It is just not what you think of, if you ever think of this country. It can’t be dense jungle and sun shielding bamboo with not a neon sign or a high-rise building in site. We only saw one other car on our hour long journey up a very winding, narrow road, affectionately christened “the road of death” by Roland. We took the road literally less traveled in order to avoid the toll road but after seeing how scary it is we responsibly decided to not be cheap and take the expressway back.

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.


  1. Sounds like Furiida is doing some of the driving as well. And in Japan nogal! Well done! Love your bloggie. Uncle Flip.

  2. You must speak shaman to understand the invitation to join the great spirit of the forest. Maybe if you level up a bit more, try the road again...