Obon started in Japan
Yesterday my mum phoned me. At the end of the conversation, she told me that today everyone is coming to the grandma´s house. Any special occasion? It´s Obon (お盆) in Japan. Obon is a Japanese custom to honours the spirits of our ancestors. In other words this is the period of time when the spirits of dead ancestors come down to our world. If you know about “día de los muertos” in November in Mexico, you may be familiar.
Only Tokyo area celebrate it in the mid July but the rest of Japan do it in August. During Obon is another important holiday season for Japanese and people usually take day off from work from three days to a week. Usually people go back to their hometown to see the family. Three days ago, there was a massive traffic jam of the people who aim to leave big cities where they live.
As a child, I remember we were always stuck in this traffic for hours and hours and arrived at my grandparents´ house nearly a bed time.
Obon starts with Mukae-bi (迎え火), which is the fire that supposed to be a sign for our ancestors´ spirits to come home safely. This is Mukae-bi from our friend, Osakaya (大阪屋). The plants that are burnt are different in the regions. In Tokyo, straws are common. Hemp is also common in some regions.
We wait until the fire puts away then the family goes inside the house. Obon begins. At the entrance, my grandma had a lantern with a candle inside and it was lit all the time during Obon.
For a small child all of this ceremony was mysterious. In addition, my grandparents´ house was very old at that time and had a big garden with lots of Bonsai. There were many places of dark spots, inside and outside of the house. After finding out that the dead spirits were with us during Obon, I tried not to see in the dark. I just didn´t want to bump into my ancestors.
Obon is also the period of summer festival. In the evening my grandma would put me into a Yukata (summer Kimono) and I went to a local festival with my two cousins. It was just magic. Normally it was held at a local shrine or a school. In the centre, there was a tower with a stage and people are dancing in the circle. Around the tower is where we can join to dance. And the rest of the place was filled with stalls of any sort of festival food, cotton candies, Takoyaki (octopus balls), shaved ice, apple candies and so on. Then there were stalls for games, catching goldfish, shooting, Corinth game or quoit. I wasn´t allowed to eat any food from the festival stalls but my mum would by me some secretly. “It´s festival” she said. I guess it was her, wanted to eat but for me it was a special night once in a year.
This week, Japan slows down. I think it´s a good custom to think about our loved ones who passed away, to see all the relatives you don´t see so often, to enjoy summer festivals and fireworks that tickles your tummy. It makes me feel Summer.
I remember the texture of the towel my mum put on my back inside theYukata because I sweated a lot and it gave me a heat rash. I remember the lights of lanterns hung up around the festival area. I remember the warmth of the asphalt we sat to see the fireworks show at Tokyo Bay. Every summer, I miss these small things I used to do.
Obon is also available from MangoSalute
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