Celebrating your ancestors by bringing their spirits home…The Obon festival
In the summer, one of the most important traditional events is the Obon holiday,
between August 13th -16th.
You will find many Japanese workers having holidays around these dates.
Obon is a Buddhist observance that was originally observed in Mahayana Buddhist
countries like China, Korea and Vietnam.
In Japan, Obon has been held since 657 CE.
It is observed in July or August depending on the region.
A commonly held belief among Japanese people is that the spirits of the dead return to visit at this time of year. People travel back to their hometowns and there are many rituals to be held in homes where someone passed away during this last year.
You can see people going to the graves on the 13th with a lit lantern to bring the spirits of their ancestors resting there back to their home and then bringing them back to the grave again on the 16th.
In the countryside, you may even find small “horses” & “cows” made from eggplants or cucumber and wooden sticks for legs put at the grave for the spirits to ride on.
The cucumber represents the horse and is used to bring the spirit to the home because horses are fast and the ancestors are eager to get home.
While returning to the spirit world they travel on the eggplant which represents the cow.
The cow is slow and used because the ancestors are longing to stay with their family here….
Well, that is the story anyway….
There also used to be Bon-odori (Bon dances) held locally with people dressed up in summer kimonos dancing around a raised platform called “yagura”, accompanied by singing and Taiko drums.
But this year because of the COVID-19 situation, it is unlikely you will see such gatherings.
But if you happen to see a Bon-dance, please join…….
The dances are not difficult and the important thing is not how well you dance but that you express the joy of life and the gratitude to your own ancestors.