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Japanese think that the soul of the dead lives forever. After one’s death, the body doesn’t exist anymore, but the human soul keeps on living and watches over the life of their descendants. In Nagasaki, they have a special way to commemorate the souls of descendants – Shoro Nagashi procession. Generally, in Japan, the days from the 13th to the 16th of August are called “Bon”. And, according to Japanese Buddhism schools, during these days the souls of their ancestors return to this world.
In several places in Nagasaki Prefecture, they mourn the souls of the dead on the Bon days with spirit boat procession. Unlikely for a Buddhistic ceremony, it is very noisy.
During Bon days Japanese greet the spirits of their ancestors. There are several forms of greeting the souls of the ancestors depending on the region. This ceremony in Nagasaki prefecture is held by the families, who have lost a family member during the last year. There are several theories about where this custom came from. Here is one below.
It is based on a Buddhist idea. Buddha hoped that people came over from this world, which is full of difficulties of life and death, to the other free world. “The boat” becomes a symbol for transportation between those worlds. Japanese set guide fires at the entrance of their house on the first day of Bon period so that the spirits don’t get lost on their way home.
On the last day of Bon, Japanese set the fire again, so that they can send the spirits to the spirit world. This time, the fire acts like an escorting fire for the spirit. The Japanese called this fire Okuribi.
In Nagasaki, they make boats, which are decorated with artificial flowers and small lanterns on which the spirits of the ancestors are sent back to the spirit world. These boats, which are equipped with wheels are pulled through the Nagasaki downtown to the final site – Nagasiba).
The boats which are about 4 m long are decorated in the Nagasaki style. The head of the boat is called Miyoshi. This part illuminates and presents the name of the family of the deceased so that it can be seen in the darkness. The boats are decorated with lanterns, artificial flowers and the picture of the deceased person.
If it isn’t possible for all families to pay for a boat because of its cost, they can choose to join the boat of the neighborhood association. It is called Moyai boat. This is a Buddhist ceremony, but it isn’t quite at all. All over this ceremony, you hear a lot of firecrackers. The firecrackers originally mean “a good luck charm” in China. People throw the firecrackers to purify the way that the boats take during the procession.
The Shoro Nagashi attracts up to 190,000 visitors a year which makes it one of the most popular events in Nagasaki.
Date: The main procession takes place on August 15th every year
Place: The festival takes place in Nagasaki city central area. Especially in Chinatown.
Address: 10-13 Shinchimachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture
Official website (Japanese only): https://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/event/51798/
From Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya to Nagasaki airport the flight takes about 1,5 h. From Nagasaki airport to Nagasaki city center by airport limousine bus is about 35 min.
JR line from Hakata (Fukuoka Prefecture) to Nagasaki by express Kamome is about 2 h.
At this ceremony, you will see how Japanese think about the souls of their ancestors and face them on Bon days. When you visit this ceremony, you should take a pair of earplugs because of the noise of thousands of firecrackers. You will find it at any convenience stores around of course.
If you would like to see this sacred festival and explore Nagasaki wih a local guide who will show you all the hidden gems, please check out the banner below!
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Image courtesy of Yuya Saito
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