Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hachimangu Paper Lantern Festival

A year has past since my second entry in this blog, the Paper Lantern Festival in Kamakura. I can hardly believe we have lived in Japan for a year. I will not lie, there are days that it seems like it's been forever since we left the states and I can't wait to go home ... being homesick, no matter your age can be a powerful emotion. There are other days though that going back to the states, whenever it is will be too soon. Sunday was one of those days ...

The kids and I headed over to Kamakura to see the Hachimangu Shrine's Paper Lantern Festival. Sadly, for the second year in a row Jeff was bound to the hospital and has to "see it" like the rest of my friends and family back home ... by reading my blog. As we did last year, we arrived early enough to look at the lanterns in the daylight, enjoyed looking at the lovely artistic expressions and tried to make a mental note on the ones we wanted to be sure to come back to later when it was dark.

A lot changes in a year, for one thing I am way more savvy riding the trains and my fears from last year of ending up "lost in Japan" with our three kids did not even enter my mind. Being timid about going into shops and not knowing the language have completely evaporated - I know very, very little ... "Gomen-nasai, Nihon-ga sukoshi ... ikura deska?" (very bad Japanese, but roughly I'm trying to say "I'm sorry, I speak very little Japanese ... how much is this?" - half the time the response is in English and I smile, laugh and am sooooo thankful they can speak English! The other half of the time the sales person is very patient, rings up the amount on a calculator and shows me the amount - I can at least understand how much Yen I will be parting with ... again.

So before getting to the shrine, this year the children and I headed down the main shopping street, stopping in my favorite snack store to buy Jeff and others (for care packages to be sent to the states) some Japanese snacks. Next a store for a birthday gift. Finally the ice cream store that has the baked sweet potato ice cream - and this year, others in my family decided to go beyond safe vanilla and give the sweet potato a try (it was a hit). Releasing those barriers has come a long way in a years time.

Purchases made and sweet-tooth's satisfied we headed off to the shrine. I did not get very far before I was already distracted and taking photos of the lotus blossoms in one of the ponds that flank either side of the entrance to the shrine. They were lovely, all phases of them from the creamy white unopened blossom, to the spent pod, I realized that a year ago I would not have appreciated the beauty of what has already been ... now, I look at a lotus pod in a different way, the texture, the color – the influence of Japan has been good for me.

The kids, ever impatient with their ADD mom asked if they could take off and look at the lanterns on their own. This being Japan, I realized I did not even hesitate and said sure, make certain your cell is on so I can reach you ... and they were gone. It wasn't until an hour later and I still had not seen them in the meandering crowds, that I thought - a. they would never have done that a year ago and b. I would never ever let them do that in the States. A lot changes in a year.

One thing though that didn't change is the beauty of the lanterns. Area artists and calligraphers illustrate/paint/draw/sumi-e on these small spaces – some are playful and amusing, some with their subtle use of colors and sumi-e are like delicate flowers, and yet others with their bold calligraphic brush strokes and the intense black ink on the ivory colored paper were quite powerful. After having made the rounds, we were losing daylight, but there was still time before the lanterns were to be lit. Luckily for me, there was an exhibit of some Ikebana work that I took photos of while we waited for the light to change - for my mom and sister but also of course for me. Ikebana (flower arranging) is about the essence - this is my Americanized take on this art form - I have enjoyed learning about this artistic flower arranging, it speaks to my training in Graphic Design.

Finally, it was dusk and the shrine maidens were out with their candles lighting the lanterns, which are stunning with the candle light. Some that I had not noticed in the daylight, came alive in the candlelight – others, that I thought were lovely by day became powerful and intense.

At 7 pm a traditional Japanese Koto musical performance began. The natives were getting restless and it was time to return to the station to catch our train but I begged for 5 more minutes "just give me 5 more minutes so I can hear her play ..." – I figure they owe me, I know over the years I've given them countless "5-more minutes" as I've waited for them to finish a book, a game, a movie ...

And so, I stood there listening to this beautiful and yet haunting music and felt a sense of peace envelop me, the pace to arrive at this event was quick and sure footed ... the pace to leave was slow, calm and lingering ... I do not know if I'll have another chance to come back here, the Navy powers-that-be will determine our fate for next year (at some point, when they deem I have a "need-to-know"). But I hope so, I hope I will be back, to absorb more of this rich culture, to discover what else my family and I have to learn ... till next time - sayonara.


  1. Jane,
    Thanks for sharing this cool event. I was like Jeff for most of my time in Japan, stuck on duty (the carrier in my case) and didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked.

    One thing I do remember is how safe Japan felt. We lived on the economy in Yokohama and Sean (4 at the time) and Megan (2) would disappear all day with their Japanese friends and I never feared for their safety.

    You need to consider climbing Fuji-san before you return to the States.

  2. Ah, the Sans took us there a few years ago. Simply beautiful...and you're right. You'd never let your kids take off in a crowd like that in the US. Miss that, too. If you get a chance, go see the Zushi fireworks. They are quite pretty over the little bay. Miss you all!


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