If you are in Japan, you may hear many times this word “Obon(お盆)” in summer. Yes, it’s known as summer vacation for many people. Many Japanese visit hometown and see family around 15th August , but actually it’s a traditional summer event. You would have fan if you know more about this unique culture. Let’s find out the detail!
In ordinary, Obon is around 13th – 16th August nowadays, however, it was days that people welcome and treat ancestors originally. So it’s a precious time to spend with, think of heritage.
It used to be 13th to 16th July when is around middle of August to beginning of September in gregorian calendar but Japan changed old calendar to gregorian calendar in 1978 then many places also change Obon to one month later at the same time.
Other reasons, July is busy season for farmers so it was tough to have family event and middle of July is still end of rainy season in many places Obon settle down on current dates.
Have you seen those unique elements? Let’s learn about more Obon!
These are called 精霊馬（syoryouuma）which is animals to take and back ancestors. Cucumber indicate a horse, eggplant indicate a cow. So why those animals chosen? Because horse take ancestors so quickly from heaven and cows take them slowly, (cows are able to carry lots food offerings) that means ancestors can take time longer to spend time with family.
This beautifully painted Japanese lanterns are called 盆提灯(bonchochin). We set this to show ancestors place to back so they wouldn’t get lost even they were faraway for long time. Ground cherries are also act like lanterns, to indicate place not to get lost.
We use mats made by plants specifically called まこも (makomo) on little tables to avoid being impolite. So why makomo??
because Buddha gave treatment on this plant. Place a lotus leaf on the mat then place food which is ancestors’ favorite, seasonal foods and Syouryouma. This is basic way of decoration. In addition, there are other special foods for Obon. First, そうめん(somen), which is able to find stores easily and summer’s representative food. There are stories why Somen became offering food but in ordinary, 1) Somen is used as reins on the horse 2)strings to tie up offering food when they leave 3) motif of happiness because Somen is thin and long so we wish wellness and happiness for long time like Somen.
Traditional Dance 盆踊り(bonodori)
What a shame! This year wouldn’t be able to have this traditional dance in most of places because of COVID-19, still many festivals have time for dancing. It seems just a part of time in summer festivals but it’s quite regional dance actually. People did it whole night on 15th, last day to celebrate splendidly long time ago. Originally Bonodori is dedicated to ancestors but says that it already had changed since Kamakura era. People compete for costumes, music, choreography etc. The style got close to current’s in Muromachi era since people started using drums in music.
As I mentioned above, Bonodori is dedicated to ancestors. In addition this dance has another face. This dance is also dedicated to nature that is give us huge harvest. For Japanese farming was super important more than now ( of course it’s very important industry though) because no harvest means lose their life. So people showed appreciation to big nature by dance.
Hoping you all enjoy summer in Japan! It’s quite hot and humid make you feel down here but still there are many things make you happier!