From: Peter Rivard
Subject: Other people's pictures.
This is a very brief note, with links to some pictures. I just got back from Kyoto, where I took in the last two days of Obon, the week when the dead come back to earth; there are festivals and remembrances all over Japan--there are special dances at temples, and people leave fires burning near the gate of their houses to welcome back their ancestors (and, again, on the last night to see them off on their return to the land of the dead). In Kyoto, people light five (really six, but one is a two-parter) huge bonfires on mountainsides overlooking the city every August 16th to see the dead off. There are four Japanese characters (two "greats" and the two characters making up the word for "supreme law of Buddhist") and shapes of a ship and the gate to a Shinto shrine. I left my camera in the hotel, figuring some pro would do a better job, but I've had a hard time finding good pictures on the net to show you. I did note many of my companions shooting away with the horrible little digital cameras that are built into most cell phones these days, and indeed it seemed that most of the pictures of the fires on people's web pages were made with low-res digital cameras--I suspect the cell phone ones.
Here's a nice one of the character Dai ("great"); I watched as this was lit from fairly close. The longest stroke, from top to lower left, is 164 m (a bit over 530') long. This is from the Kyoto Shimbun (newspaper).
I'm consistently amazed at how awful the average Japanese homepage is--typically all text, and if there are pictures, they tend to be either awful or tiny. Occasionally, of course, you find someone who's done it more carefully: for example, a site (overly) dedicated to a pet rabbit has a huge number of pictures, some quite well done, but because of the size of it, I'll direct you to a summary site that just links to some of the best pictures. This is a favorite page from the site itself.
I'll post some of my own pictures from summer travels soon (click here)--I didn't shoot the bonfires, but I tried to get some nice shots of the candle-lit paper lanterns at a large cemetery. We'll see how they turn out.