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her face hidden by a straw hat
Japanese phrase describing a mysterious beautiful woman 夜眼遠目笠之内 yome tome kasa no uchi
Samurai are forbidden to attend the public celebration. They may dance on their own premises but must keep the gates shut. No quarrels, arguments or other misbehaviour are allowed.
Edict of Tokushima han, 1671
The dancers are fools
The watchers are fools
Both are fools alike so
Why not dance
Awa odori song
Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I'm dead
As the processes of earth
strip off the colour and the skin.
take the brown hair and blue eye
and leave me simpler than at birth,
when hairless I came howling in
as the moon entered the cold sky.
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
Death shall have no dominion.
This week is obon. Many people return to their home towns. They clean the family graves and remember their dead relatives.
As an aside I was at a funeral recently. There are many subtle things going on at a Japanese funeral. For example men wear black suits and black ties to funerals. Women also wear black. Almost no jewellery is worn. Funerals are usually in two parts: a wake in the evening and the cremation the next day. And the subtle point is that if you wear a black suit to the wake it can look somehow too prepared. So the cool people who know what's really going on wear business suits and save their black suits for the next day. I'll talk about funerals another time.
So summer is a time for spirits. And ghost stories. That's one way to keep cool. A frisson in the dark. I talked about Lafcadio Hearn's famous ghost stories before in The Daimyo - morning of battle.
Bon is also a time for dancing. Bon odori is a summer harvest dance and a way for the young men and women to meet as well as a dance for the spirits. There are different customs in different regions but women usually wear yukata cotton summer kimono often with straw hats. A famous dance is the Awa odori in Tokushima.
And also at obon in Kyoto they light giant bonfires on the mountains over the city. This Gozan no Okuribi is to send the spirits back to the spirit world. Another name for it is Daimonji. Dai is the character for large or great. One of the bonfires is in the shape of a huge Dai. It is the same character used for O Sensei - great teacher. That is the name we use for the person who founded aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. There are many other possible words for the founder or the head of a style in Japanese culture, many of them very respectful. But he was called and still is called simply great teacher. He was a great man with a great vision of peace. And he was a great teacher.