NIPPON Kichi - 日本吉

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精霊船 Shara-bune Sharabune

Jp En

The custom of Sharabune Okuri (Ship Send-Off) has been passed down in the Mita and Urago areas on Oki-Nishinoshima Island in Shimane Prefecture. Sharabune literally means “a boat for the spirit of the dead.” This tradition is unique to Nishinoshima and is the highlight of the Obon festival every year.

Early in the morning on August 16, children load the boats with gifts for the spirits of their deceased ancestors; then tow the boats out to sea, singing the song of Obon to send off the spirits. Local people watch calmly on the piers.

Constructed of straw and bamboo, the boats are colorfully decorated with strips of colored paper, on which prayers such as “Namu Amidabutsu (meaning “Homage to Amida Buddha) are written. The sight of the colorful boats gently floating on the blue sea toward the offing is beautiful but elegical. In time, the boats disappear in the far distance.

In the old times, each family built a small boat of its own, but from the Meiji period (1868-1912) and onward, a larger boat is made by a hamlet in the village. The replica of the boat is displayed at the Municipal Museum of Nature and Folk Culture.
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庭月観音灯籠流し Niwatsukikannon-Tourounagashi Niwatsuki Kannon Lantern Floating

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The Niwatsuki Kannon lantern-floating event takes place every year on 18 August on the Sakekawa River, which flows in front of Niwatsuki Kannon in Sakekawa-mura, Yamagata Prefecture. Niwatsuki Kannon is a holy ground famous as the final stop on the Saijo 33 Kannon pilgrimage, and many visitors come to see this shrine to the Kannon bodhisattva.

Niwatsuki Kannon lantern-floating is an old Obon event that has been held every year since the Edo period, and many people from inside and outside the prefecture come to participate. It is the largest lantern-floating Buddhist ceremony in eastern Japan.

At sunset, nearly 100 lanterns are lit, while dedication songs and prayers begin. The lanterns are then released into the river one by one, to the accompaniment of songs, while people make prayers commemorating their ancestors. Watching the many dimly-lit lanterns float gently off into the dark distance is a magical sight.
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長崎 精霊流し Nagasaki Syourounagasi Nagasaki Shourounagashi

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Shourounagashi (Floating Lanterns for the Souls of the Departed) is a traditional event held in Nagasaki during the Bon Festival (annual Buddhist event commemorating ancestors, July 15th). It is held to send off the souls of the departed on spirit boats.

There are several versions as to the origin of this tradition. The most commonly held one is that it derives from the Chinese Saishunagashi (floating boat) festival. Saishunagashi was an annual ceremony held by Chinese voyagers and navigators who had come to Nagasaki. At this time, they prayed for the repose of the dead.

In Nagasaki, the family of someone recently deceased makes a large spirit boat, which is then carried to the 'passing point' accompanied by banging gongs and firecrackers. The men carrying the boat shout “Doui!Doui!” as they make their way.

These boats used to be sent off to the sea, but this  is no longer practiced today because of environmental problems.

The influence of China on this tradition is very clear. Many people plug their ears because of the earsplitting sounds of the firecrackers. It is also said that the image presented in the well-known song 'Shourounagashi' by Sadamasashi (a famous Japanese artist) differs considerably from the actual event itself.
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