About one-week’s Obon holidays is one of the longest period of holidays, which Japanese office workers have eagerly longed for.
To the international students who came to visit this blog today, do you know what does Obon mean in Japanese culture, and how Japanese people usually spend this obon holidays?
Today, we will see the Japanese custom of Obon and lean how to spend this ritual.
Obon is a Buddhist event to worship the spirits of ancestors in the summer.
For the Japanese thinking of “Obon,” there is an image that “we will go back to our home, gather with family, relatives and friends, and go to our own family’s grave to hold a memorial service for the spirits of our ancestors”
The period of obon holidays is usually from Aufust 13th to 16th as the nationwide social custom, however there are other regions in Japan in where people spend Obon during July.
What is the significance of “Obon?”
Obon is the period to mourn for the people who have just passed away, and at the same time worship our ancestor’s spirits. As the descendants or the survivors, we will welcome their spirits especially in the place where the deceased had spend the most of their time while they were alive, usually at home. Then, we spend time together with them and pray for their happiness in the other world, and see them off until the time they return.
The custom of Obon
How should we spend obon, while welcoming the spirits of the ancestors?
The customs of Obon are slightly different depending on each region, but generally speaking, it is like this： We will lit the small fire at the gate of a house, this is so-called “迎え火, mukaebi (the welcome fire),” in the evening of the first day of Obon, August 13th. As just like this, we will lit “送り火, okuribi (farewell bonfire)” in order to see them off. Many of you know “五山の送り火(Bonfires of Gozan)”, the most famous one is the letter of “大” blazing on the slope of a mountain, which colors the late summer of Kyoto. “迎え火, Mukaebi” is for welcoming the spirit (精霊, shoryo) and “送り火, okuribi” is for seeing them off to the other world.
Obon decoration and offerings
During obon, we will set up “the obon decoration (お盆飾り, obon kazari)” in front of the altar. It used to be three shelves, but now commonly has only one shelf. In addition, for us spending the busy life, it is troublesome to prepare all of these things, now we can purchase the set of “obon kazari” very easily. Next, we will introduce you widely-known items of “obon kazari.”
“盆提灯, Bon Zhouchin(lantern)”
This is a lantern, which will guide ancestors’ spirits to our home smoothly.
“盆棚, Bon Dana (shelf)”
This is a shelf, which arrange the offerings to welcome ancestors’ spirits.
Above the shelf, first put a rush mat which is made of Manchurian wild rice, and secondly decorate a leaf of lotus.
“精霊馬, Shoryoma (figures)”：made of cucumber and eggplant
Last of all, “精霊馬, Shoryoma” should be placed in the center of the shelf (盆棚, bon dana). Shoryouma are the figures to serve as the vehicles for the ancestors come and go between this world to the other. Usually, the figure considered to be a horse (cucumber) and a cow (eggplant) are prepared in order to guide ancestors’ spirts come back home as soon as possible.
Cucumber and Eggplant are the representative of summer’s vegetables in Japan.
“ほおずき, Bladder cherry”
Bladder cherry is a plant, having the lantern-shaped very bright red colored fruit. This is the one of the most important ornament for obon, in addition to “盆提灯, Bon Zhouchin (lantern)” and “迎え火, mukaebi (the welcome fire)”
Visit to a grave on Augst 13th
August 13th is the first day of Obon, and usually all members of the family go to the cemetery to clean up a grave and worship ancestors. Offerings are ：fresh flowers, incense sticks, candles, and snacks or drinks as treats.
What do you think about obon?
Do you have the similar customs in your country?
Let’s try to experiment Obon at home, decorating ほおずき, cucumber’s horse, and eggplant’s cow?