KotoJazz 12: Japanese Lanterns

While Japanese lanterns are best known for their regal presence in Japanese gardens, their significance goes well beyond that.

Another tradition that hails from China is the Obon or Bon Festival. This is a popular holiday in Japan in which families return to their ancestral home and visit their ancestor’s graves. It is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honors the spirits of our ancestors. During this holiday ritual, the spirits of our ancestors are believed to revisit us. It is a time for honoring and appreciated their sacrifices during their lifetimes here on earth. The 3-day festival ends with Toro Nagashi, the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are lit up with candles and then floated down streams and water ways to signify the departure of our ancestral spirits. More recent ceremonies have added fireworks to the celebration, creating festive images at a solemn moment. Click here for more information about Bon Festivals in the U.S. (California, Seattle and other Bon events).

Bon has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and includes a traditional music genre called Ondo folk music and dance, known as Bon-Odori.

I found the following Japanese koto and Japanese music about lanterns:

  • Dance Suite: Shuttlecock, Lantern Parade, Ainu Children’s Dance, by Shinichi Yuize;
  • Japanese Stone Lantern: DC Cherry Blossom Festival, by DC Walkabout
  • Red Lantern, by Antonio Arena, Silvio Piersanti;
  • Japanese Lantern, by Idyll Swords
  • Lanterns in the Wind, by Rosalind Richards;
  • Related Vocal Songs:

  • The Lantern, by Beats Antique;
  • Lanterns, by Birds of Tokyo;
  • Habakkuk’s Song, by Broken Lantern Project
  • Red Lanterns, by Jasmon;
  • The Stone Lantern:
    In Japan the stone lantern (toro) was originally only used in Buddhist temples. Lanterns were lit as an offering to Buddha where they illuminated the path to the temple.

    The stone lantern represents the five elements of Buddhism, – the earth (chi), water (sui), fire (ka), air (fu), and void or spirit (ku). The two latter elements, the cap of the lantern, point toward the sky where we return to our original elemental form after our passing.

    Asia is not the only region that recognizes the power of the lantern symbol. The significance of the lantern in the west and Judeo-Christian tradition may be symbolic of the light: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” – Psalms: 119: 115 (there are many inspiring songs written in these words, not to mention Amy Grant’s “Thy Word”).

    “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do we light a lamp and put it under a bushel.” – Matthew 5:14-16

    My purposes for sharing these quotes and links of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the hope that we not be threatened by spirituality in any tradition. Both Judeo-Christian and Shinto- Buddhist- Hindu traditions have positively touched lives for thousands of years. Similarly, the integration of koto and jazz music aims to do the same. If our lives are touched by the lamp and the light of any tradition or music, does it really matter from where it comes? Maybe some day we will be able to visit Christian websites and learn about Buddhist spirituality! 🙂