Procession of the Spirits
Each year on August 15, a thick haze of incense and firecracker smoke envelops downtown Nagasaki and an uproar arises from hundreds of accompanying gongs, firecrackers and the thousands of spectators lining the streets. The unusual procession unfolding is Shoro Nagashi, a Bon (all souls’ festival) celebration with a unique Nagasaki slant, during which ancestral spirits are “shipped” to the otherworld on wooden spirit boats. If you’ve never experienced Bon in Japan, Nagasaki will make an awe-inspiring first.
At dusk on the 15th (the last day of Bon), the tinkling of bells attached to each spirit boat signals the processionﾕs start. Some boats are tiny hand-held affairs; others exceed 10 meters in length. Made of bamboo, wood or even straw, each boat bears a photo of a family member who passed away during the year since last Bon, with the family’s crest, name and locality name emblazoned on its prow. Carrying the boat over their shoulders, the family members march slowly and join other groups, forming a growing procession through the city until reaching their destination? the seashore. If you think a procession honoring the deceased must be spookily solemn, think again. Shoro Nagashi is a celebration of each deceased’s life, and the hundreds of softly-lit lanterns, noisy firecrackers and shouting (intended to chase each spirit to its resting-place, the heavens) are testimony to that. Ghostly yet godly, Shoro Nagashi is bound to leave a powerful impression. Just make sure to bring earplugs!