Japanese Summer Event, Obon

August 24, 2011 Juju Kurihara 0 Comments

Hello, I´m just back from my little summer holiday. Yes, may be I´m a bit late for this article but, it was obon (お盆) in Japan last week and it´s an interesting custom, too. So here you go.

rushDuring the 13th to the 15th is the period when there is a big migration in Japan. This year it was a weekend and since Friday, TV news showed how long the traffic jam in every motorways from the metropolitan area. Then on the 15th same thing happens but this time to the metropolitan area.


This particular three days in Japan is known as obon (お盆), is the period when all dead spirits come home. Majority of Japanese people go back to their hometown and spend these days with their families and relatives. As this is the days of death as well as Mexico and Spain, the most important event is to go to cemetery. Obon is one of the most important annual events after oshogatsu (お正月/the New Years Day).




During the summer holiday, I went to my hometown in Toyama and had relaxing days. Really relaxing. Boiling hot weather encouraged me my laziness and I was just tossing around all day….

mukae bi

But I visited the cemetery of course. This summer was the first obon since my grandma passed away last autumn, so I went to the cemetery before anyone and welcomed her. Usually all the relatives get together, ask a Buddhist monk to come to read Sutra. After that all of us have some food and make a fire for receiving spirits (called mukae-bi/迎え火). This is the proper way of spending obon however people are getting more dry even between the family and each year we see each other less and less. Not many families are no longer make fire at the beginning of obon (mukae-bi/迎え火) nor at the end of obon (okuri-bi /送り火). This doesn´t mean we have less respect for our ancestors, we still care about them and my family keeps the tradition.


Since 8 years ago, we have another cemetery to visit. It´s our family dog´s grave. He loved running around hills and fields, so we buried him in the place like this photo wishing that he can see a good view every day.

I believe spiritual things and whenever I come to the cemetery, I feel their spirits around. Or perhaps they are always around me and watching me but I simply cannot feel it.



There are many beautiful sightseeing spots in Toyama; fresh fish, the Kurobe Dam (黒部ダム), mirage and rich nature, although the places I used to visit as a child are not so well known and after the years, it looked little outworn. It gave me a nostalgic feeling but at the same time, I felt sad.

It was like “B-class sight spots” in a way, as “B class gourmet” is really popular nowadays.



There is a river named “Jintsuu-gawa (神通川)” in Toyama, which means the river where the god passes by. Although this river is well known for Itai-itai disease (itai-itai byou / イタイイタイ病 in Japanese), it´s actually a beautiful A-class river. And the point where Jintsuu-gawa comes into the Toyama Bay is one of my favorite places. It´s a shame that I couldn´t take a good shot as I wanted.



Other place to see is “Kaiou-Maru park (海王丸パーク)” where you can see a retired ship, Kaiou-Maru which is a big ship used to sail all over the world.

The days they set sails are set and the day I went, I couldn´t get to see it unfortunately. But I was remembering its brave looks in front of me just like I saw when I was little.



This is the “Taikou Yama Sumou-Jou (太閤山相撲場/Taikou mountain sumo ring) where is said that Shogun Hideyoshi Toyotomi (豊臣秀吉) held sumo wrestling. It´s quite rare that a park has a sumo ring, and because of this history, sumo is one of the common sports for kids in this area.




At the end, a special summer product of Toyama is this ”Nyuuzen Jumbo Suika (入善ジャンボスイカ/ Nyuuzen huge watermelon). People in Toyama is relatively modest but not the watermelons. They are huge! And the price is surprising, too! It was 4,000 yen at a supermarket but it was to big to carry, and of course it´s a full of sweet summer taste of Toyama inside.


There are few tall buildings but there are many big parks and paths to walk around, also many mountains, rivers, waterfalls and the ocean. Our life there is harmonized in the nature. Comparing to the life in Tokyo, everything is digitalized and is surrounded by concrete jangle, Toyama has different air and time. I was astonished by the night sky with so many stars, as if they were about to fall in me.


I think that living away from hometown makes me appreciate it more.

It´s so good to have “the place to go back”.


Written by Natsuko Nakabayashi

Toyama prefecture (富山県)


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