- Title: JAPAN: Japanese celebrate ancient rocket festival with a modern twist.
- Date: 21st October 2006
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (Thai) YASOTHORN MAYOR THANAWUT PAKTARANIGON SAYING: "These festivals are not about war, but prayers to the gods,"
- Embargoed: 5th November 2006 12:00
- Location: Japan
- Country: Japan
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVABEKK4XFJSW8W1CRKMPAH051YP
- Story Text: The hills outside Tokyo roared with the sound of rockets ripping through the crisp blue autumn skies earlier this month although this was neither a mission to the moon, a military exercise or an attack from a neighbouring renegade state.
This was a 400-year old festival called the Dragon Rise (Ryusei Matsuri in Japanese), or more commonly these days called the Rocket Festival.
Historical documents have records of this rocket festival dating back as early as the 1500s, though officials of the local Ryusei Preservation Committee say its roots go back some hundred years prior to that.
From 1600 to 1868, the festival went underground as commoners were banned from using gunpowder, they added.
Nevertheless, the farmers in this region kept the tradition going, teaching each other by word of mouth and from father to son, the secrets of bamboo rockets to this day.
The festival was celebrated at harvest time and originally called upon the gods to bless their fields for another year.
Modern times call for modern themes and the festival now asks the Gods to bless everything from new constructions to new businesses, or to protect family and friends from traffic accidents -- some even ask them for world peace.
But this festival, once a secretive enterprise by the locals, has attracted nation-wide attention and draws thousands of people and tourists to the usually sleepy mountain villages, two hours north of the Japanese capital Tokyo.
"We all say these are rockets. But I hear this festival derives from ancient firework festivals in this region however its just incredible. I can't describe it, you've got to see it yourself," said 46-year old tourist Kimio Konai.
The festival has also tied up with a similar city with a similar tradition in Thailand, called the Bong Fai (firework) celebrations.
While the Thai festival, held in May around the city of Yasothorn, calls on the gods for rain, both share a more peaceful mission -- unlike some other rockets that have recently been launched and made headlines around the world.
"These festivals are not about war, but prayers to the gods," Yasothorn major Thanawut Paktaranigon told Reuters as he contemplated the similarities between the festivals and the 35 rockets that spun through the firmament over the mountains of Chichibu this year.
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