August 24, 1907


Foreign Letter.


Nikko, Japan, August 24.--


The festival of Ieyasu took place as advertised. A slight shower passed and the day was faultless. Midway up the grand avenue the hotel had provided benches and refreshments and there we sat and waited at noon. With piercing shouts a crowd of men and boys appeared, dragging a large pine tree up the avenue, followed by a multitude of people eager to secure branches as charms against evil spirits. So great was their success that on reaching the summit the stalk was bare. The echo of these shouts had scarce died away when the entrance way was thrown open, and the religious procession was seen to leave the grounds and proceed down the avenue. If you wish to see something that will divert you you should see this procession. It is a religious masquerade. The procession approaches with music and waving banners. At the head were priests, mounted on the sacred ponies, and clothed in gold brocaded robes, or in crimson silk chasubles and white cassocks, followed by a retinue in bright yellow gowns and black lacquered caps, holding aloft huge temple fans on long, curious and characteristic poles. Warriors, dressed in ancient style and carrying the old time arms of Japan, played their parts also in this fantastic show.

Then came men and boys, wearing masks and quaint costumes of 300 years ago, belonging to the temple and worn only on festal days. They waved banners and curious flagshaped ornaments used in temples; others carried live birds and monkeys or walked in pairs partly hidden under skins of ferocious beasts. Scattered at intervals were the sacred cars, huge structures built on wooden wheels, with temple-like roofs, black lacquered bodies, vallenses [valances] of rich needlework, gorgeous odd draperies of red and yellow silk, and drawn along by strings of devotees. Bands of music in the procession made a most horrible din with gongs while scores of primitive flutes and fifes squeaked out their part of the terrible noise that Japanese call music.

The procession was at least a mile long, and along the avenue, on both sides flooded an immense crowd which had congregated from every part of the country to enjoy this festival. The procession marched slowly over the sacred red bridge and through the town, holding high carnival until evening. The fete lasted but one day, and closed that night with a grand illustration of the temple and grounds. Innumerable huge, gay colored paper lanterns flashed light from every building and gateway, the pagoda, the trees that line the stairway to the tomb and the tomb itself. Hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns added their quota to the light, and the vast crowd carried small lanterns of paper. The soft breeze swayed the golden windbells, and from the main avenue floated upward the deep tones of the great bronze bell, struck by its wooden hammer.

I walked up through this materialized fairyland to the summit of the hill and looked down over the long green vista of the pines over the brilliantly lighted grounds. It was a sight rare and impressive. The most beautiful spectacle I have ever beheld. It seemed as if the town with all the temples, and all the forests near by, had been converted into a land of fireflies. Dancing lanterns bobbed about the roadways, swaying trees scattered leaves of light, while swaying lanterns of the houses and temples seemed to give to the whole the appearance of light flowing like water over uneven rocks. This continued far into the night, and I watched it as it died down, first the dancing little lanterns of the pedestrians becoming fewer and fewer, then disappearing, followed slowly by larger lanterns on trees and houses, with the great stone and bronze lanterns of the temples remaining to the end and finally dying out, leaving the whole city to darkness.

I think the stream of lanterns carried by these people as they ascended and descended the numerous steps to various temples, and across the little foot bridges over the streams, was the strangest sight I have ever seen, and the memory of it will remain as long as I live, for it was all so weird and uncanny that I could hardly bring myself to realize that all this light was caused by the little people with whom I came in contact every day.

C. E. E.


Source:  Crittenden Record-Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1907-1918, March 5, 1908, Image 4 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.


[My comments are in brackets.]