Things I Did During O-Bon (August 12-19)
• Saw the Daimonji Gozan Okuribi on August 16 in Kyoto. I parked myself on the banks of the Kamogawa River among a large crowd also there to see the event. Sure enough, not long after dark, the first of the bonfires came to life, a 大 shape, “dai” or large, defying a bank of rainclouds that occasionally cut loose on the audience. It looked a little distant, but it was worth seeing once.
[The Japan National Tourist Board tells us that “although there are several interpretations as to the origins of this event, it is generally regarded as a fire set alight at the gate for seeing off the souls of ancestors after commemorating the welcoming of their souls. The character of “dai” (meaning “large”) on Mt. Daimonji, and those of “myo” and “ho,” which make up the word “Myo-ho” (wondrous teaching of Buddha) on Matsugasaki Nishiyama and Higashiyama mountains are famous.”]
• Took some long walks in Osaka and one in Kyoto, from the Kenkakuji (Golden Pavilion) to the Nijojo Castle. The latter was closed by the time I got there [I eventually visited the Nijojo.]
• Visited a few museums, including the Osaka Municipal Museum; the Kyoto National Museum; and the Museum of Oriental Ceramics. [Some years later, I told an acquaintance of mine who’s a gifted potter that I’d been there, and he was clearly envious of the experience. I liked the pottery well enough, but his instincts were right. It should have been him rather than me, in terms of who could appreciate it best.]
• Also spent time at the National Museum of Ethnology, which has all kinds of interesting artifacts, such as a yurt, Polynesian vessels, African masks, lots more. The museum is at Expo Park, site of Expo ’70, the world’s fair held in Osaka that year. That’s probably the first time I’d ever heard of the city. Other relics from the fair include the enormous outdoor sculpture called “Tower of the Sun,” looking very much like something created in the late 1960s. [By Taro Okamoto, who died in 1996. I had no idea there was anything inside the work.]
• Discovered a second-run theater in Osaka, admission only 600 yen for two movies. Good place to go for air conditioning, a traditional reason to go to the movies. This week saw Lair of the White Worm and Salome’s Last Dance, a sampler of Ken Russell’s recent twisted visions. Before seeing them, I’d mostly known his movies by reputation. Altered States, which I did see once upon a time, was much worse than either of these.