Reading the Air: Lantern Floating


Mount Fuji moonlightThe moon was almost full and hanging to the left side of the great silhouette of Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan. Its soft but intense radiance dropped like the cloth of an amply skirt over the entire surface of Lake Kawaguchi in the east, at its foot. It was soundless and light, and the hundreds of people gathered together on the lake shores were easily able to resist chattering in their characteristically excited way in its presence.

It was as if they are witnessing the most entrancing of all Geisha girls dancing: every simple movement, the tilt of the head, the bending of a supple knee, and the easy ripple of an opening fan is sheer delight. Such simplicity, such restraint, fully engages the Japanese spirit.

Nohmen and Meredith Capethorne, the American professor visiting Japan to research temple consecration, were standing at the scene together at the back of the huge crowd in the dark, but their minds were not as satisfied at their spirits.

toro nagashiMeredith closely questioned Nohmen and he was obliged to meet her at her world of the mind, though he found it disturbing. It was Meredith’s first attendance at a formal public ceremony, and as they arrived in and departed from many subjects neatly connected with Tourou Nagashi, the traditional Lantern Floating to convey prayers to the visiting ancestral spirits, Meredith’s hungry mind directed the proceedings.

The ceremony commenced with thegassho 2 procession of dignitaries who were accompanied to their seats at the front of the platform on the shore edge.  Then the taiko, a huge Japanese double-ended drum mounted on a strong frame, was beaten in syncopated rhythm to announce the beginning of the ceremony, and this was imitated by a delicate silvery bell sound.  next, a huge brass bell, hollow and bigger than a man’s head, further imitated, and so the counterpoint continued until the assembly was complete.

Everyone attending was silent, their hands placed in gassho as a mark of respect for the entrance of the head priest. He walked slowly, preceded by a tall priest in a shimmer of green robes, who was beating a handbell with a long silver beater to warn of his arrival. he was quite small, his robe of vermillion heavily embroidered with a design, which traditionally portrays the geometry of the rice terraces of Japan.

hand bellEventually, the priests were settled in their places, and busily adjusting the folds of their voluminous robes.  Kokoro was amongst them, so she could not watch the ceremony with Nohmen and Meredith. Meanwhile, the high priest was seated by several attendant priests at the table, which would serve-for the purpose of a secular ceremony-as his altar.

He faced the expanse of the lake where the sun was tipping rapidly off the end of the earth, performing a special ritual, chanting special prayers alone, his voice mellow and perfectly at home.  His whole life had been devoted to his father’s teaching, Nohmen and Kokoro’s Master.

Next the lanterns were lit one by one and brought for him to bless.  A long line formed, filing along the wooden pier to the small boats waiting to carry them out to the centre of the lake, so that they would float easily when launched. The lake was calm, the moon serene in tis unrivaled power, and the flickering lanterns  danced close to the sky.lanterns

The head priest stood watching, his whole being filled with prayers and blessings, as the lanterns were loaded.  Later, they would float down the many tributaries to the ocean, and so to all the oceans of the world. There was total silence as everyone present generated prayers and blessings for their ancestors. They concentrated as one huge body in reverence for their existence, which they had no doubt they owed to their ancestors.




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