Konnichiwa everyone!

Have you ever heard a Japanese word “OBON”?

“OBON” is a shortened form of Buddhist festival “URABONĒ” and held in July or August in Japan to welcome, honor and send the spirits of one’s ancestors.

mukae-biIn general, OBON starts from July (or August) 13th by burning a welcome fire called “MUKAE-BI” at the entrance or gate of each house.

For MUKAE-BI, “OGARA (dried hemp stems)” is burnt for the spirits of ancestors not to lose their ways home. (The plant used for OGARA varies depending on each region, such as branches of pine tree, cedar tree, cypress tree, white birch tree, rice straws, etc…)

For OBON Festival, Japanese people return to one’s parents’ home to make this memorial service by all the family members.

As offerings in front of the spirits of ancestors, there are vegetables, fruits, sweets and flowers put on a small altar.

cucumber horseIn addition, especially for OBON Festival, we make a “cucumber horse” and an “eggplant cow” by sticking 4 OGARAs into each vegetable for the spirits to take a ride, wishing they come smoothly on the horse and go unhurriedly on the cow.
You can see the Japanese hospitality and consideration toward their ancestors here too maybe.

By the way, cucumbers and eggplants are the representative summer vegetables in Japan.

I used to make the horses and cows with family when I was a child.
Sticking OGARAs into those vegetables is more difficult than you expect. You need to think about the length and balance, otherwise they cannot stand firm on the ground.
If you try to stick them many times, the vegetables become full of holes…
By repeated experimentation, you will become able to make it better, but you will fail again in the following year as it is an event only once a year. (When I became adult, I finally mastered it!)

Well, I think having a mindset to take care of one’s ancestors has been shared by the world for long time. Even though the style to do it is different depending on the cultures and religions, the fact that you are born from your parents, your parents were born from your grandparents, your grandparents were born from your grand-grandparents…is something happened by necessity I believe, not by chance.
Your country and your parents might have been decided before you are born…?

By the way, I had a chance before to know my former lives.
I was told that I was reincarnated many times, once as a poor aristocrat in Europe, once as a learner of Buddhism in the TANG era of China, and once as a SAMURAI in Japan, etc…

Well well, to return to the OBON Festival, for those who passed away this year or previous year, it is called “NII-BON (new OBON)” or “HATSU-BON (first OBON)” and there we make a special ceremony inviting many people who had relations with the deceased person such as his/her friends or acquaintances in addition to his/her family members.


Envelops for celebration (left) and for condolence (right)

When you participate to the NII-BON or HATSU-BON according to Buddhist rites, you bring a condolence gift which is money wrapped in a special envelope.

In most of the Japanese ceremonial occasions, we offer money as a token of our mourning or gratitude.
In return, the host of the ceremony gives you back something worth half of the amount he/she received in accordance with Japanese tradition “HAN-GAESHI (return half)”.

This is reasonable in a sense because finding an appropriate gift for each person is a little troublesome, so it might be one of the wisdom of Japanese people.


TEMPURA (left) and NIMONO (right)

In the middle day of the period of OBON Festival, on15th, we eat “SHŌJIN-RYŌRI (vegetable dishes)” such as “TEMPURA” or “NIMONO” with family, then on 16th, we see off the spirits of our ancestors burning a ceremonial bonfire called “OKURI-BI” on the final night of the OBON Festival.

During the week of OBON Festival, “BON ODORI (BON dance)” is performed in each area.

This event has been held for 500 years in order to welcome and pray for the repose of the spirits of ancestors or other deceased people.
bonodoriOn an open space of the area, a high wooden scaffold called a “YAGURA” is built and the people of the area dance in a ring around the YAGURA all together, usually being dressed in YUKATA.

On the YAGURA, Japanese drums are played with local folk songs or musics.

Even if you don’t know how to dance, you can join the circle and learn it by looking at and copying how people around you are dancing.
In this way, the BON ODORI tradition is continued from generation to generation.

In Japan, major companies have “OBON-YASUMI (OBON holidays)” for a week usually from August 10th.

Originally it was for returning to one’s parents’ home to hold the memorial service mentioned above, however these days, many people trip abroad to profit this long holidays.
It seems like they are putting their enjoyment before their ancestors.

Yes, times may change, but I believe that as long as the YAMATO GOKORO is kept deep inside of Japanese minds, the conventions or customs which are passed on from parents to children will not change.