Usuki Bamboo Lantern Festival

The Takeyoi Matsuri is in Usuki every November.  It is a beautiful festival that reminded me of a mix between Halloween and Christmas because the lanterns are candle-lit, and hand carved, but the lanterns are everywhere lighting up the city’s center and leading the way to the shrine.  The soft glow of millions of candles led us up steps that were thousands of years old into Usuki’s ancient castle walls, where a shrine had been built on top of the mountain.  At the top of the mountain, you could participate in a green tea drinking ceremony and enjoy the cityscape with thousands of people mulling around eating fish-on-a-stick and candles flickering from the bamboo.

Before trekking into the shrine, we ate some interestingly flavored soft-serve ice cream.  Chihiro-chan and Alexa ate miso-flavored ice cream, while I tried the green tea sofuto (soft-serve).  It was delicious, as all Japanese ice cream is.  It is not like regular American ice cream… maybe it could be considered a close second to Costco’s frozen yogurt.  I would love it if Costco served green tea frozen yogurt!  NOM!

After we had ice cream, the parade started.  A Japanese parade is not exactly like a parade that we would think about in America.  It’s more symbolic of culture and legends than Macy’s or Dillards.  There are three females in this parade, carried by many men.  This parade was meant to symbolize a legend of Usuki’s princess.

Thousands of years ago, there was a beautiful girl in Usuki named Hanyahime.  She was famous for her beauty and kindness.  The people who served the empereor heard the story of the beautiful girl, and relayed it to the Emperor.  Soon, a request from the Emperor for the princess to marry the emperor’s son was brought, but her parents did not want her to get married.  They felt that if she got married, she wouldn’t be their daughter anymore-which was most likely the case because the wives were often swallowed up into the husband’s family, especially the Emperor’s family.  In an attempt to appease him, Hanyahime’s parents sent a box with her picture instead of the princess herself back to the Emperor.  One of the emperor’s sons looked at the picture in the box and fell in love with her.  He came to Usuki city and they were married.  They were very happy in Usuki together, and she became pregnant.  In those days, the Emperor and his constituents lived in Nara, and he wanted his son to come back to the family dwelling.  The Prince went back to the Emperor’s palace, but without Hanyahime.  The princess bore a baby girl, but she left her daughter in Usuki with her parents to travel to Nara to see her husband.  On the way to Nara, she died because there was a torrential storm.  The princess’s parents wanted the box with her picture to be sent back from Nara, and the Emperor obliged.  After the memorial, the box served as the daughter of the parents and the mother of the baby girl.  In Autumn, the roads to Usuki get very dark earlier than at other times of the year, so the people of Usuki set out the bamboo lanterns to guide the princess’s spirit and other travelers home safely.

(Thank you to Hiromi sensei for translating this from the internet!!)

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