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The pictures in this Portfolio concern the behavior of groups in secular and ceremonial circumstances. If there is a major common theme, it is the relative formality and symmetry of these occasions--a basic orderliness of posture which possibly reflects the many formalities and rituals of the social system.

Many of the pictures involve "religious" contexts, although the term is ambiguous. Religion as an institutional category in Japanese culture puzzled the Occupationaires, because in contrast to America--and most Western nations--Japanese religion seemed as much a matter of good fortune and relaxation as of belief or commitment. The Japanese themselves liked to say that "we are born into Shinto and die in Buddhism--and it is also good to honor Jesus." Still, Japanese religion does seem to provide an important framework for life and death--even if it is not a major moral guidance program. Religion in Japan has failed to provide significant restraint of aggression, but then neither has Christianity in the Western world.

Like Christianity in Europe, religion--especially Buddhism--provided a framework for great art and architecture--shrines and temples, including the oldest wooden structures in the world; beautiful bronze sculpture; impressive ceremonials. Much of the inspiration came from China or India, but the end results were distinctively Japanese.

The public festival (matsuri) in Japan is ubiquitous, and can be purely secular or religious, or as it is in most cases, something of both. There is considerable overlap between the annual festivals of local shrines and robust street fairs and carnivals. And internal tourism--pilgrimages and excursions to visit shrines, temples, historical sites, and beautiful scenery, is endemic. The familiar sight in U.S. airports of a group of Japanese with tour guides and leaders carrying signs and placards, shouting directions, and keeping the group in line, is right out of the domestic landscape. (Most photos in the portfolio were taken in the 1940s, but a few were taken on two visits in the early 1960s.)

Journal Extract:

September 1950

The fall festival season begins with Bon, so called festival of the spirits of the dead, an old Buddhist affair supposedly celebrating Buddha's birthday[*]. It is much more than that. Really defies comparison---sort of like a combination of Easter, 4th of July, and the Mardi Gras--that is it has multiple functions. It is a period of manifold release and public participation for all kinds of purposes and emotional resons. For devout Buddhists it is of course a time for the return of spirits of the dead who are welcomed and revered. For others it is a time for public celebration and some hell raising, especially in villages. For others, it is a time for profit and advertising; for others, it is a chance to commune with the crowd, to participate in an emotional identification with others in huge mass dancing episodes.

Bon in cities is characterized by large festivals centering around shrines and temples. In some cases there are special postwar events, to make money for shrines or temples cut off from national coffers [the Occupation insisted on the disestablishment of religion in the new constitution]. For example the Yasukuni Shrine (to the war dead) never had these things before the war, but now has the biggest festival in Tokyo. In cities, the places of celebration, shrines or temples, will have periods of Bon dancing for a week or more, fireworks, outdoor plays, the display of omikoshi (portable neighborhood shrines), drum carts with scarf dancing, displays and contests of flower arrangement or lantern painting, wrestling, orchestras, and numberless pitchmen and sellers of wares. Commercial angles very prominent, with half the paper lanterns hanging in the area inscribed with the names of commercial organizations who donated them. Dancing might be led by professional troupes, often a whole geisha house or several houses under control of one boss, but the important thing is that public participation takes place on a large scale. Around the stage or platform on which the professional or most skilled dancers are, hundreds or even thousands of people will be dancing, all in time and following the motions of the platform group. All very slow, self-contained, with eyes half closed. No individual spontaneity, only effort to do as everyone else is. Intoxicating type of thing. Walk round and through the pearly colored lanes, with the lighted, decorated paper box lanterns, with the innumerable shops of toys and novelties, the incense and clapping of prayers at the shrine portals, and then the great mass of swaying and moving dancers, with the music blaring out from a loudspeaker attached to a phonograph. Everywhere in Tokyo the Bon music came from records, although reinforced everywhere by a drum or two. Feeling of grace and softness, with the leer of the merchant behind it all--never miss a trick! Most charming sight are the teenage girls, with their soft black hair hanging down their back, their slight shoulders outlined by the flowered kimonos, often tucked intriguingly at the shoulder, to expand later, all moving like animated lilies in the indescribably graceful and stilted motions of the dance.

In rural areas the Bon is quite different. I witnessed only one--a year ago. Much more lust, drunkenness, hell raising. Same general idea, but less contained and stylized. A period of real hell raising and celebration of a more violent sort. Lots of drums, etc. Also in another sense more organized since the whole village will take part in the thing, and everyone wants a certain job to do. More focused--not just individual Bon festivals at individual neighborhood shrines and temples.

Toward end of August and in September comes a rash of matsuri (festivals)--with various purposes. In cities these are characterized by neighborhood organization--that is the given neighborhood, with or without a shrine will sponsor a festival, with the usual trimmings of special sales, lanterns hung over every door, plus the special paper gadget symbolic of the particular festival, etc. Omikoshi carried around, usually several of different sizes for the different ages of boys. Big crowds. Boys, especially young children, dress in matsuri costumes, the older boys often making up like girls--some inversion principle being at work there. Much drinking. Drunks, as usual, in Japan, treated humorously and considerately. It is their right--sort of like wayward children or mental deficients--no rage or fury or annoyance expressed openly toward drunks--least of all disgust. In addition there is usually a stage where the scarf dancing takes place, with drums and flutes. Also a smaller booth--often a store turned inside out for the occasion, full of drums which the boys can beat. In general the informality is strinking--the boys can beat the drums as they please, any time. Their fathers participate with them, and the general communal spirit is marked. Also some kind of special display of holy items and purification displays in booths or stores accompany these.

Each urban neighborhood becomes a little village during a festival like this. Everybody plans, participates, looks forward eagerly. All activity focused inside during a period. Everyone enjoys everybody else, and families get a new integration. You can see how the city is made up of little villages--or at least during festival periods the neighborhood becomes a village.

Another aspect of this is the sense of locality in individual streets. Goes beyond anything in the states. The merchants on a given street not only form an association, they remake the street. They put up signs, lights, plan on uniform architecture, or planned non-uniformity, run joint sales, festivals, and attempt to give their street a personality. Becomes again a little village. Remember one street driving down to work when I lived at the Mazo's house. Down a hill, had been transformed into Japanese fairy mood--delicate buildings, lanterns, bright colors, intriguing displays, etc. Very Japanesey--obviously consciously done. Festivals fit right into this pattern. During the festival the street is brightened up, changed from a drab place, with striking sameness to other streets, to a unique little village fairyland, and everyone walks inward, as it were, to their own neighborhood. It is a wonderful commercial device, if nothing else. Customers and their merchants become as one, they all participate in the activities together. In villages the commercial backing of the local festivals is not so apparent or important. Local dignitaries, politicians, priests are more important, and in general the thing is more of a "religious" affair and less of simply a neighborhood blowoff.


* Maureen Donovan comments: Buddha's birthday is April 8th (Hana Matsuri or Flower Festival). Bon is on August 15th, and is based on a story in a Buddhist sutra in which one of Buddha's disciples made offerings to relieve the suffering of his mother who had died and was in the Realm of Hungry Demons.

schoolchildren walking in front of a seated Buddha statue

117. Children visit the Great Buddha in Kamakura
There are two "great Buddhas" in Japan: one here in Kamakura; the other in Nara with his hands in a different mudra, or position. The children are on a regular visit to the statue. The children have typical wartime and postwar clothing and the period's bands-and-bobbed hairdos. The Kamakura Buddha is called Amidar Nyorai; the one in Nara Yairocana (Birushana).

people gathered beyond a large gateway

118. The Great Kaminarimon--"Thunder Gateway" to the Asakusa Kannon
The Asakusa Kannon Temple, also known as the Sensoji Temple [the suffix '-ji' means "temple"], is located in the middle of the Asakusa District, a major entertainment district of Tokyo. The temple is famous for visitations during holidays, and possesses a famous devotional facility conferring luck and fortune on people who pass their hands through the incense smoke. A photo of this custom, but for a different temple, appears later.

(JWB photo: 1962)

2 colorful kites fly from a pole

119. Boy's Day Carp Banners
The annual display of wind carp banners on the traditional "Boys' Day" celebration--changed, during the Occupation, to "Children's Day," to avoid the militaristic and gender-specific overtones. These two were flying in our yard, in honor of our two young sons.

a line of well-dressed people

120. Temple Visitation: 1
A young woman, with her special fur muff, on a New Year's visit to the great Kannon temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. Her hair is done up--or, on the other hand, it might be a special holiday wig.

a woman holding a child

121. Temple Visitation: 2
Another young woman exiting the shrine with her son.

(JWB photo: 1962)

people gathered at a festival

122. Shrine Visitation: 1
A family on a visit to a local shrine festival. Most neighborhoods in the cities had--and still have--shrines which have an annual schedule of festivals and celebrations. The little girl is holding a bamboo good-luck wand, with its hanging colorful souvenirs and good luck charms. In the background can be seen the temporary booths which sell various articles and objects commemorating the particular shrine deity or the festival.

(JWB photo: 1965)

several people walking down some steps

123. Shrine Visitation: 2
Shrinegoers exiting one of the great public shrines in Tokyo, reading their New Year's good fortune messages. The young woman is dressed in the traditional kimono worn during the New Year period.

(JWB photo: 1962)

an outdoor shrine with balloons and text

124. Shrine Visitation: 3
A neighborhood shrine decorated for its annual matsuri period.

an indoor shrine with people seated in front of it

125. Shrine Visitation: 4
Worshippers in a neighborhood shrine on its festival day, in Tokyo. Note the offerings of rice (in the boxes) and other things, and the ritual mirror on the left.

people seated on a stage

126. Village Festival
A village Shrine festival celebration--matsuri--during the O-Bon (Festival of the Dead) season, with some of the local young businessmen having fun with the drums and dance. The man on the left is performing a gyrating dance with the mask of Kitsune, the trickster fox. The man on the drums was hammering away, trying to keep time as best his amateur skills allowed. The children are fascinated.

(JWB photo: 1948--the second picture taken the day after arrival in Japan)

men carrying a palanquin during a festival

127. O-Mikoshi Festival: 1
Carrying the mikoshi in another O-Bon season shrine festival in the Meguro district of Tokyo. Most local shrines in the cities have a large, heavy palanquin which must be carried through the streets on the annual festival occasion by local neighborhood young people--like these well-fed and washed young businessmen. Their mouths are open with chants and shouts. The mikoshi can be seen in the background.

(JWB photo: 1965)

men carrying a palanquin

128. O-Mikoshi Festival: 2
Another view of the mikoshi operation with a better view of the shrine palanquin itself. Note the thick ropes, which are symbols of purity. The man on the right is obviously fatigued.

(JWB photo: 1965)

small children pulling a rope

129. O-Mikoshi Festival: 3
Everybody gets a chance to pull or support the mikoshi, even the toddlers, for whom a special little rope is provided, with a parent supervising.

(JWB photo: 1965)

a line of shrine visitors carrying umbrellas

130. Visiting Yasukuni Jinja on its Annual Day
A rainy visit during the New Year's holiday period to the great national shrine to the war dead in Kuban, Tokyo.

a group of women in a park

131. Housewives on a Pilgrimage: 1
Farm housewives on parade--typical packaged tour for housewives visiting famous shrines, temples, and scenic locations. In this case, the ladies--in their rural uniform costumes, are on route to a temple in Kyoto.

a group of women in a park

132. Housewives on a Pilgrimage: 2
More housewives on a shrine tour. In this picture, it was the great shrine in Narita, Chiba prefecture, north of Tokyo. The garments are typical rather bulky wartime and early postwar styles.

view from the top of a steep staircase looking out over the city

133. Entrance to the Narita Shrine
The stairway up to the Narita shrine, in Chiba. At the entrance down below you can see the line of marketing stalls where souvenirs and devotional mementos were sold. The picture was taken in 1949; Later, Narita became the location of the new International Airport, constructed in the 1970s and 1980s. No doubt the landscape was very different by the 1990s.

schoolgirls dressed in black sit in a park

134. Schoolgirls and Pigeons
This picture illustrates the organized, processional quality that characterizes the public decorum of many groups in Japanese society. These girls were in their school costumes, assembled in the courtyard of a college building, preparing to take a tour of the premises. The pigeons seem to sense the occasion.

(JWB photo: 1960)

a woman praying at a shrine with incense

135. Gathering Credit and Fortune
A young woman worshipping at a combined Buddhist-Shinto temple in a mountain region, perhaps asking for help and good luck in her life.

a man and a woman sitting in a garden, reading

136. Lunch Hour in a Shrine Garden
College students using the dedicatory lantern garden of a Tokyo shrine for a noon rest and study session.

two baseball teams walk out onto the field towards each other

137. Opposing Teams coming out to Bow to Each Other
Opening ceremonies at the annual Keio University (private)--Tokyo University (national, public) baseball game in the Tokyo Olympic stadium. At the time, the game was considered by Japanese to be their "World Series." But since then, professional teams compete for the prize. Anyway--the two teams would line up before the game for elaborate bowing rituals. Related rituals appear in U.S. sports, for that matter.

(JWB photo: 1960)

a group of people standing on a covered boardwalk

138. A Wedding Party
A wedding party, on a post-ceremony outing in one of the elegant parks--originally the garden of a samurai villa--in the Tokyo area. Most prewar and wartime weddings were officiated by Shinto clergy. The old saying is that you are born and married in Shinto, but you die in Buddhism.

women walking along the street in the rain

139. New Year's Excursion
Young women around the New Year period, after their shrine visitation. (Note the fur boas, muffs, and jackets.)

a group of men in black jackets

140. Firemen's Annual Festival
The Tokyo Fire Department festival and demonstration day--dating from the days when fire was a major and routine disaster in cities built of wood and straw. The firemen in the picture wear their ceremonial happi coats and in the background can be seen the parade standards and insignia. Each troop or fire department district will parade and manipulate their standards in dramatic ways as they march and chant. Shinto shrine connections were standard for the neighborhood fire department stations.

(JWB photo: 1962)

mother and father walking through a park with their son

141. Going Home after the Firemen's Festival
A fireman participant in the firemen's day celebration returning home with his wife and child.

(JWB photo: 1962)

a monk stands at a shopfront with his walking stick

142. Begging Buddhist Monk
An itinerant Buddhist monk, on a street in Kyoto, contemplating foodstuffs and waiting for the proprietor to provide a handout. The large bowl-shaped hat, called gasa, is a typical monk's traveling hat.

people walking on the sidewalk towards the camera

143. More Begging Monks (near the "Honey Buckets")
Another troupe of medicant Buddhists, led by a man who beats on his paddledrum to call attention to their needs. More interesting, perhaps, is the stack of wooden baskets on the curb: these are full of human waste--"night soil"--culled from the toilets of the vicinity, and waiting for the "honey wagon" to come by and pick up the contents. This odiferous task was still in effect in most cities during the Occupation, and the material was used all over Japan as fertilizer for garden crops and rice fields. The custom eventually ceased in the 1950s as chemical fertilizers took over. While the Occupationaires condemned the practice, and tried to prevent their compatriots from eating vegetables and fruit from the local markets, the Japanese managed to handle the material with a good deal of care and sanitation. However, it was a good thing the practice ceased.

a storefront

144. Shinto and Butsdan Paraphernalia
A shop selling home Buddhist altars (on the right) and Shinto (on the left). This religious paraphenalia shop was located in a district of Tokyo that was not fire bombed.

a parade of men in ceremonial armor

145. Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto, A Daimyo's Guard, Heian Era
The Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) is a kind of historical pageant held in Kyoto, with well-known citizens taking the roles of historic personages.

(JWB photo: 1962)

attendants push a cart (that looks like a boat) with women seated atop it

146. Jidai Matsuri, Kyoto
Lady Murasaki, the famous Heian era novelist, and her attendant.

(JWB photo: 1962)

actors seated on the grass in a park

148. Actors in the Jidai Matsuri
Actors resting and lunching in the park, with reporters and photographers in attendance.

(JWB photo: 1962)

cars decorated with political signs and with people standing on top

149. A Student Socialist Rally in Osaka, on the grounds of the Osaka Castle.
The sign reads "Japan Socialist Party"

(JWB photo: 1965)

students seated in front of a building

150. Waseda University Students during a Student Strike.
The sign at left proclaims a German language speech contest

(JWB photo: 1965)

three people read a large sign

151. Placards Posted at Waseda University.
The bulletin board says at the top, "Featured Subject: Soka Gakkai." Soka Gakkai was a new religion, a kind of Buddhism. Three lectures are sponsored by Tokyo Kenkyu Kai. The names of the speaker are listed on the smaller board to the right. This photograph was taken during the Waseda student strike, although these lectures have nothing to do with that.

(JWB photo: 1965)

a sculptor works on an outdoor sculpture of a reclining nude

153. Open Air Art in the Student Strike
Student activities during the Waseda strike: the students literally took over the university, its departments, and its courses, and locked out the faculty.

(JWB photo: 1965)