Thursday, July 08, 2004

PL blog.

Every municipal fireworks show I go to now is measured against the most spectacular display I ever saw, the PL fireworks of August 1, 1993. I have a penchant for remembering exact dates, but that one in particular is easy to remember, since it occurs on that same date every year in Tondabayashi, Japan, a suburb of Osaka. It isn’t municipal, however, but a function of the Church of Perfect Liberty, widely known in that country as PL (using the Roman letters).

Religion in Japan is often characterized in terms of the mixture of Buddhism and Shinto, with a percentage point of Christianity thrown in, but of course in a nation of 120 million or so with complete religious freedom, there are plenty of other sects, most flourishing after 1945. PL is one. I never learned much about its tenets, but I did find out about its fireworks.

From the PL web site: “On this day [August 1] hundreds of thousands of PL believers, from the local churches in Japan and from distant parts of the world, gather at the PL Holy Land, the home of our spirit, to appreciate and pray to the First and Second Founders.

“The Founders' Day ceremony climaxes when Oshieoya [the religion’s current big cheese], standing before the altar of the Main Temple, purifies all the participants through the Rite of Blessing. At this moment, from behind the Main Temple, a thunderous burst of ‘dedication fireworks’ light up the sky. Soon afterwards there follows an hour-long display of the world's greatest fireworks, ‘The Art of PL Fireworks.’

“First Founder prayed and asked God to shorten his natural life by 30 years, so that by his sacrifice, his teachings and virtue would remain forever to save mankind. He repeatedly said, 'When I die this religion should spread all over the world. Therefore, my death is meaningful for world peace; it is not something to grieve or mourn over. Rather after my death celebrate together with fireworks.' The Second Founder sincerely wanting to fulfill his wish created 'The Art of PL Fireworks,' to honor and appreciate the life and virtue of the First Founder.

“Since the First Founder passed away during the time of religious persecution, the fireworks art couldn't be realized for some time. In 1953, at Matsuyama City, the first fireworks display was held, in commemoration of the 15th Anniversary of the First Founder. The following year in 1954, the site of the Founder's Day ceremony, as well as the ‘Art of PL Fireworks’ was moved to the new PL Headquarters in Tondabayashi.

“This annual event is the most popular entertainment in the area and is looked forward to not only by PL members, but by many residents of greater Osaka and the neighboring towns. Yet we should always remember that it is not a mere seasonal display of fireworks. Rather it is the grand bouquet dedicated by all PL believers throughout the world to the spirits of the First and Second Founders.”

According to Yuriko, PL doesn’t meddle in politics and doesn’t preach the killing or enslaving of non-believers, so on those scores it seems like an innocuous religion. Even better, fireworks represent a rite, which I have to say is a fine idea. Well executed, too, since money probably isn’t an object. I remember the finale in particular -- an amazing, minutes-long barrage of gold explosions, so thick that it looked like a glittering gold mushroom, filling a quarter of the sky.


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