Otou Matsuri (Fire Festival) お塘まつりWakayama, Japan Feb. 6, 2009

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For the past 1,400 years or so the town of Shingu has been host to one of Japan's oldest festivals, the Oto...
For the past 1,400 years or so the town of Shingu has been host to one of Japan's oldest festivals, the Otou Matsuri, an event that starts innocent enough in costume and ritual, but finishes at the top of a mountain shrine named Kamikura Jinja (Kamikura Shrine) where boy becomes man and man becomes boy, as fire meets soul, and the intense flames of our forefathers rekindle the collective male primordial tinder, humbling both young and old in the presence of the Immortal Face, and its blank stare of infinity. In real-world terms, in order to participate in the festival one must be male and willing to be subjected to intense heat, violence, and other life-threatening challenges, and most importantly allow oneself to let go of modern logic and convention and to put tremendous trust in his fellow man, yet at the same time ready to fight him for your own survival. I took my son Kai (age 5) but I saw children as young as two! In this sense its a rite to passage, and for grown men, a rebirth. The fabric in which Japanese society is woven is of strands of the staid and the insane, in patterns that on the surface seem as smooth and sophisticated as kimono silk, but take another look, a closer look. There are strands hidden from the naked eye, and they are of a different, sometimes strange and primitive cloth. Festivals like this reveal Japan's true cultural tapestry, allowing us to sometimes see the rough backing of the fabric, the crude primary treads that hold the more orderly embroidery in place. This is the Japan I lust for. Having joined this festival simply reminded me of this desire. Thank you Okada-san for inviting us. I will never forget this exerience, nor shall my son.
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