September 10, 2012

In Summer, Nara becomeTown of Prayers

 Every evening I enjoy comfortable temperature and a beautiful moon. In daytime, a coolness of Autumn is  gradually overwhelming a lingering summer heat.

Summer is a colorful season when a various festivals, ceremonies or rituals are held all over Japan. I would like to introduce two ceremonies based on  folk beliefs of Buddhism as my memory of summer in Nara.

One is "Obon(お盆)" and the other is "Jizo-bon or Jizo-e (地蔵盆 or 地蔵会)", both of them are held across the country.

 "Obon (お盆) " is the 3-day period of the year from August 13th to 15th when the spirits of the deceased return to this world to spend three happy days with their families.  The memorial services are held to dedicate to the spirits. Also "Obon" is a good chance for family gatherings or friend reunions. 

On the first day and the last day, Bon fires are made to welcome the spirits and then to say  Good-bye to them. I love this belief which gives me a quiet comfort. At least once a year the spirits of the beloved people will come back to see us from the other world. The poem or song "Do not stand at my grave and weep" 千の風になって",   like "Obon" makes  me feel soothing .

"Do not stand at my grave and weep" translated in Japanese

This is the "Ten Thousand Candle Ceremony, 万燈会" held for Obon on August 15th at
Todai-ji Temple 東大寺Actually ten thousand candles are lit around Great Buddha Hall.

The window is open two times a year. The illuminated face of Great Buddha 
is welcoming us in a warm atmosphere. 

smoke from an incense burner

On a lantern, a prayer of a worshiper is written.

a fierce face of one of four directional divine guardians to protect Buddha.
Amazing! The artists used the rings very effectively. Sorry, the photo is not clear.

Many kinds of charms are sold in Great Buddha Hall.

This is "Jizo Bon, or Jizo-e (地蔵盆、地蔵会)"  held on August 23rd and 24th at Gango-ji Temple, 元興寺. This ceremony is dedicated to Jizo Bodhisattva who is a guardian deity of people, particularly of children. 

This lovely temple has a number of  stone statues or tablets of Buddhist deities or pagodas. 

 Dim glows of candles are flickering and create the peaceful pure land of Jizo.

In the precincts of the temple, there are many temporary stalls for food or games.

This temple is well-known for blooming seasonal flowers.
 Early summer Harushagiku or coreopsis are in full bloom.

Late summer bell flowers in bloom

There are five demons which live in this temple with Buddhist deities.

A crescent moon and crape myrtle flowers 

my related blog Glory and Tragedy

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I linked this blog to Mandain Orange Monday, Visit and see more!!


  1. That is a beautiful way to illustrate the faith... Your sharings about Nara are always so interesting...

    Your pictures are really awesome ; could you please tell me what do you use as camera ? Is that a reflex, or is that a bridge ? I ask because I want to replace my tired Sony HX1, and I'm starting to look what would be a good replacement.

    1. Mine is Canon Eos Kiss 6i. Yes, it is a reflex. I replaced Kiss 3 with Kiss 6i about two months ago. In basic functions, both of them are almost same except ISO. Kiss series is for beginners, but a camera body is light, so I am using this series. As I do not drive a car, no matter where I go, I use a bus or a train or just walk. So I need a light camera. So far, I have no complains about Canon. I haven't used cameras of other makers such as Nikon. Now in Japan, mirrorless cameras are getting very popular. They are as light as compact cameras, but they have the functions of Reflex.

    2. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer me... I'll take this information into account when I'll buy my next camera.

      I had a reflex, the kiss 3 (it is called 450D in France), but I wasn't using it that much, because of the lenses (heavy, and not very practical when it comes to change them, except if you have two housing for two lenses), so I sold it.

      I'm just like you, I walk a lot (even if I have a car) so the bridge I have is quite a good match for me : it goes in the pocket of my jacket, I don't even have to transport a bag...

      I going to look a little bit deeper regarding those mirrorless camera you are talking about : they seem to be a good option for me.

  2. This is so interesting and beautiful! I love to come here, Keiko, and I spend a lot of time just looking at your photos and reading your reports over and over again.

  3. 私も東大寺万燈会に行ったのですが、4つ目のお写真の場面を目撃して、面白くおもいました。なんか異次元の世界に迷い込んだみたいに感じました。開かれた窓からの大仏様みごとにとらえられてますね。

  4. Es muy bonito. Hay alguna leyenda o alguna obra literaria que ilumine esta costumbre?
    Cada persona lleva su plato con las velas?

    Domo arigato,

  5. 東大寺の万燈会、荘厳ですね!私、拝見したことがありません。一度、見てみたいものです。大仏さまのお顔がのぞいている写真、なんだか夢幻の世界に迷いこんだ気持ちになります。おっしゃるように、朝晩は秋の気配がただよっています。といっても昼間はこちらは33~34度ぐらいあります(汗)。神戸から阪神電車で奈良へ直通で行けるようになりました(芦屋乗換え)。keikoさんたちが紹介してくださったところを少しずつ訪ねたいものです! 

  6. Dear Keiko,
    I'm really impressed about your atmospheric and sensitive style of photography of today's post! I wanna right back my bags and travel to Japan again, but this time not to noisy Tokyo, this time I would like to take such photos full of atmosphere as well... :-)
    Next time I have to visit Nara (as well)!
    The photos no. six and seven (from above) are my favourites!
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful impressions!

  7. Your photos are masterpieces. What wonderful traditions you have in Japan.

  8. Your pictures are beautiful and, along with your words, so helpful in understanding your great traditional Holidays. I especially like the idea of Obon -- it would be so comforting to have these days.

  9. Keiko, sometimes your photographs take my breath away. Keep at the wondrous work you do so well-- and thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Bruce,
      What an encouragement for me! Thanks a lot.

  10. It is always wonderful to read your beautiful words and to see your photos - you are able to present the spirit of your traditions so well. Thank you.

  11. What a great photo. The combination between the fire and the dark is perfect. I think that the fire means our life.

  12. As usual, your photographs are so full of artistry and atmosphere. This is just WONDERFUL! I like the idea of beloved spirits coming and then going away - it is very reassuring.

    I just bought an old book - about 100 years old - teaching English children about Japan and it mentions Jizo. Your post has reminded me and fixed Jizo in my mind.

    1. I am taking more photos of Jizo than any other Buddhist statues. Maybe, Jizo is the closest existence to our daily life among other deities.
      How nice it is that children of your country will know Japan and Jizo through 100 year old book!!

  13. Keiko, you take me there.
    your photos fill me with awe and wonder, and peace. there is something for each of the senses. the coreopsis photo is my favorite. happy week to you.

  14. Your photographs are beautiful, and allow me to travel to a place I would love to visit.
    Thank you!

  15. Your photos are lovely, even those taken in less light. Your festivals have many things in common with ours too.

  16. Interesting post and some beautiful photos.My favourites are the orange, glowing ones - beautiful light. You might like to join in on Mandarin Orange Monday:)

  17. Beautiful images. The candle ones in particular are stunning.


  18. A beautiful, magical night of candles light.

  19. I love your photos. They are so atmospheric especially the close ups.

  20. こんばんは。東京に住んでいると、日本古来の伝統に触れる機会も少なくなりました。このお盆や地蔵盆のブログにとても感動しました。

  21. Your photographs are so beautiful, they transport me there. Nara looks magical and mystical. I love the flowers growing wild there. Just reading this gave me a serenity and uplifted my spirit.

  22. 優しく懐かしく厳かな気持ちにさせてくれるポストです。元興寺の地蔵盆、石のお地蔵様達とろうそくの炎が幻想的です。来年はぜひ行ってみようと思います。百日紅の隙間からのぞき見る三日月、ゾクッとします。(でも、説明を見るまでは、百日紅とはわかりませんでした。) ;-) 今年の夏は精力的に奈良の行事に参加されたご様子、お元気そうで何よりです。


  23. 前回のBASARA祭りのダイナミックさとは違うのですが、今回も原始的なエネルギーのようなものを感じました。特に地蔵盆の灯の魅力的なこと!しずかなしずかな灯の踊りですね。

  24. All your photos are stunning, but I love the Jizo-bon event and photos best because the lamps use natural flames.

    I knew the poem "Do not stand at my grave and weep", but I never realized there was such a beautiful Japanese song about it! Thanks for that information! ^^

  25. Fascinating post!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  26. Beautiful pictures and fascinating story, thank you for sharing...

  27. Thanks for sharing your wonderful image on Mandarin Orange Monday:)

  28. Hello Keiko, The lantern light and candlelight set the scene so beautifully at the temples. The surroundings look very peaceful and spiritual. I would love to wander in these places by the flickering light of lanterns and candles. Your photos are magical!

  29. WOW is the only word that I can say when I see your posts snowwhite. Thanks for the stunning views of the traditions and the sighting of the Great Buddha. Walking in the dim of the candle lights along with you here... I can feel the calm now... Magical your land is and you sure make it come alive, both through your pictures as well as words!

  30. Keiko,your photos are simply splendid and the way you capture light is really amazing. There is a beauty and simplicity about so many Japanese ceremonies which sets them apart from others around the world. Whatever we believe it's always good to set aside a time to connect with departed loved ones.

    Best wishes,

  31. Hi Keiko,
    Thank you for leaving a comment on my blog!
    You have a mastery of night shots which I admire: the light of candles is warm and mysterious. Beautiful shots!

  32. Beautiful series. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Great light in them.
    Wish you a nice week.

  33. Keikoさん、こんにちは♪


  34. Keikoさん
     奈良のお盆の夜にともされる灯が、これほど私達の心を癒してくれる事をkeiko さんに教えて頂く今日まで私は気づきませんでした。また、日本に住む多くの人も知らないのでは?と思うと残念です。
     東京、日本橋の新スポットで開催中のイベント で、三連休の一日 夢を見ようと主人と出かけましたが、90分待ちの人だかりで入場料1000円。一気に疲れて諦めました。思うに私は 夜店の金魚の幻影を求めたのでしょう。結局癒される事なく帰路につきました。

  35. この間はコメントありがとうございます。snowwhiteさんの写真を見て、自分もこんなにうまく撮りたいと思うばかりです!!

  36. Snowwhiteさんの写真はいつも実際に見る以上のものを語ってくれます。目を凝らし、耳をすまさないと見えないし、聞こえないようなもの・・・が。


Thanks a lot for visiting my blog and leaving warm messages. I will visit your site soon. keiko