Obon Okuribi 2021

It’s a shame that the famous Kyoto Okuri-bi send off bonfires will be limited again this year. It’s an outside event and I don’t see the point of caution. Hopefully the souls of family ancestors will still be able to find their way home and back again in these dark times. A friend of mine, Rev. Sensho Komukai wrote a nice article that describes the event and the Buddhist tradition behind it. Hopefully the bonfires will burn in full glory in 2022.


August 13-16 is the traditional Obon period, when the souls of deceased family members are believed to return home from the other world. A fire is burned as a guide sign to welcome our ancestors on the evening of the 13th (mukae-bi) and to send off the spirits on the 16th (okuri-bi).

Great okuribi bonfires are seen on five mountains in Kyoto on the evening of August 16th. Each bonfire has a different character as follows: Dai (大), Myo (妙), Ho (法) a boat shape, and a shrine gate shape. At 8:00 p.m. the character of Dai is lit first. Myo and Ho are then lit ten minutes later.

Myo and Ho bonfires have been prepared for centuries by the Nichiren Shu supporters of Yusenji Temple and Myoenji Temple of the Matsugasaki district in North Kyoto. Myo has 103 burning woodpiles, and Ho has 63. Each woodpile has been traditionally allotted to a family member of the two temples.

One woman who came to Matsugasaki after marriage said with a sigh,

“It is still hot in August. When the bonfires are lit, there is no refuge area from the heat. I was all sweaty, dying of thirst. I helped the bonfire event out of a sense of obligation. Once we finished, I went down the mountain with a sense of great relief. However, when I arrived home, my grandmother-in-law had brought a family ihai tablet out into the garden and was holding her palms together in Gassho toward the bonfires on the mountain, I felt ashamed of myself. People in Matsugasaki respectfully send off their ancestors with all their heart. Their religion and culture have been handed down with high esteem. It was my mistake to think so little of the bonfire event.”

After the bonfires of Myo and Ho burn out in 30 minutes, the Bon dance starts in the precincts of Yusenji Temple. The dance originated in 1307, when a Tendai priest, Jitsugen, who was very impressed by Nichizo, converted his faith to the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Shu teaching.

All village people of Matsugasaki became devotees of Nichizo and Nichiren Shu. Priest Jitsugen felt joy chanting the Odaimoku while beating the drum. The villagers began to dance, and this “Daimoku dance” became the origin of the Bon festival dance. In modern times, people dance with simple beating of the drum and quiet chanting rather than a joyful dance. They want to think back deeply to the days they spent with their beloved families and silently express gratitude toward their ancestors on the Obon send-off day.

Daimoku Dance

The Owakon

If you watch Japanese YouTubers like Heraiza you soon hear the buzzword ‘Owakon’. Owakon is one of those clever Japanese creations that combines ‘owari’ (over) + ‘content’ to create a handy new expression for ‘oh so over’ dead content. And it doesn’t only apply to things, it applies to people too, like ‘oh so over’ dead-tired, overexposed TV ‘talent’ living off the management company connections instead of real talent.

One of the many interesting realizations brought home by the COVID crisis: being stuck at home has only proved how dead Japanese TV is. Young people have turned it off and are streaming or watching YouTube. Proof? Look no further than the overflow of YouTube ‘Kaidan’ content. Kaidan (ghost stories), are a traditional folk performance so well loved in Edo era, also firmly engrained in the Rakugo cannon.

Kaidan YouTuber channels like Shinpei Shimada, Nana-fushigi, Toshi Boys (City Boys) Yachin no Yasui Heya (Cheap rent room) and countless others are fascinating…not so much for the content but the fact that these channels are pulling in viewers and ads. Money and eyeballs are going here instead of ‘Owakon’ TV. Nanafushiki is a duo who were working regional events and radio but never made it big on TV doing better than ever on YouTube.

Heraiza, as usual, deftly points out why Owakon TV talent does so badly when going YouTube. Her latest goes to the heart, er jugular, in her take down of TV comedian Hiroyuki Miyasako’s just announced ‘revolutionary’ new YouTube show: Farthest end of the world Restaurant. The problem? Nothing new and not enough sex, just tired old TV comedians and their management companies trying to escape Owakon TV.

Good luck with that.

The YouTube JP Zeitgeist: boobs, butts, celebrities and gossip gurl Heraiza

Oh dear, Heraiza sez boobs are out, butts are in

I have no idea who the top Japanese YouTuber is right now but Heraiza is the ‘it girl’, the zeitgeist of our Japanese COVID state of emergency moment. Not only is this 17 year old high schooler way smarter and wicked funnier than the tired recycled Japanese ‘tarento’ on YouTube, she’s also hyper aware of the fleetingly silly perilous nature of the floating world she inhabits. Like she says, ”it’s just YouTube…YOUTUBE!”

Her machine gun rapid delivery takedowns of Japanese entertainers by drily analyzing their YouTube rankings and hit counts are hilarious. She’s also generous and hilarious ranking the ‘Best Boob Phishing‘ Japanese YouTubers for her mostly male ( I assume) audience: “it’s a gross topic but here are the good natured quality sites.” Other standouts include a withering satirical Kuroyanagi Tetsuko impersonation that references 70’s cultural moments (she does her homework), and a hot take of former Johnny’s Jr. group member Nakamura Riku’s scandalous breakup with idol R-Chan (“Do you really think an ex-Johnny’s guy is gonna make it as a YouTuber? Forget it!”).

There are things you can only do at 17, like saying what you want with attitude and still get a free pass, things you can’t do at 20, let alone 18. Enjoy the fun while it lasts. As Heraiza san says with her trademark sign off: Te-koto!

“Whatever!”

UPDATE
Heraiza is under stealth attack from somebody claiming to be Dentsu (they contacted her via a gmail account). Dubious and purposely vague copyright claims are a well known YouTuber attack vector. You would think grownups have better things to do than pick on a 17 year old high school student YouTuber. She now has 2 strikes under the YouTube 3 strikes policy and has temporarily removed most of her previous content until the issues are resolved.

Removing the digital record for fun, profit

Paul is on a real tear of great posts, his latest asks: Is this corporate embraced digital news rot? I have been dreading the coming disaster that is digital archiving for years. If you work in publishing you know what I mean. Lots of books have been lost in the migration from film to digital. When small publishers and printers go out of business or merge, plates, film, and files simply go in the dumpster. Good luck recreating the originals from scratch.

We like to think that digital is a superior way to archive the public record but the Reuters digital dumpster move here shows us it isn’t.

Beware charismatic leaders; they won’t save us

I’m glad Paul Jorgensen is blogging more. Earlier posts (now gone) of the dirty BGP tricks China Telecom was playing alerted me to a huge security problem that no mainstream tech blogger covered and helped me track down the big Google BGP leak that brought down most of the Japanese internet on August 25, 2017.

His take of fake corporate heroes is an excellent reminder that corporate heroes are mostly marketing. To which I would add that in the case of Carlos Ghosn, the corporate savior image was nothing but marketing, media manipulation…and good old ‘west is best’ cultural snobbery. The very same western cultural snobbery his apologists use to defend him.