Obon: Bring Back Our Dead

Obon: Bring Back Our Dead

Obon: Bring Back Our Dead

Obon: Bring Back Our Dead

One of the most important holidays in Japan is smack dab in the middle of sticky and humid August, and this is known as “OBON”.

Coming from an occidental society, I thought these custom to be strange at first, but as I came to understand more and more about the meaning of OBON, I found the concept deeply fascinating as I do many things here in the Land Of The Rising Son.

The Japanese worship their ancestors, which is also common in many other Asian countries. For example in Cambodia, I found a high correlation between the Cambodians and Japanese in regards to their ancestor worship belief systems.お墓The Japanese traditionally return to their hometown (furusato or kokyo), in which they still feel a deep attachment, unlike what one may think about their own hometown when looking at it from an occidental perspective. 

There, the souls of the ancestors are brought back from the family graveyard to the ancestral home, where they are celebrated with food and sake offerings upon the family altar, for which their spirit will reside during this three day festival.仏壇The descendants will offer incense upon the alter as they pray to their ancestors, thanking them for their sacrifice and perseverance. 

Culture point: Remember never to blow out the incense you are about to offer to your ancestors, you must wave them in the air to extinguish the flame, blowing them out like a birthday candle is extremely poor etiquette.

I recall, when visiting someone’s ancestral home for the Obon holiday, the children of the neighbourhood dressed in happi coats and fundoshi, would go to each door and pounding the taiko and chanting for the ancestral spirits of the household. Obon traditions vary from region to region and this particular unique experienced occurred in the rural hinterland of Ibaraki prefecture.ハッピThere is also exquisite dancing during this period know as “Bon Odori, which dates back some 600 years. It is during this dancing where the ancestors and the sacrifices they made for us are remembered and appreciated. 盆踊り-02

I truly believe if you worship anything, it should be your own ancestors, who, by virtue of you dear reader reading this post, persevered under extraordinary circumstances to pass their DNA along to you. Now this is something to really be thankful for, don’t you think so?

Why not celebrate one’s own ancestors and the unique heritage right here and now. 

You can reach out to your elderly, who are sooner rather than later going to become one’s ancestor. You can tap into their depth of experience, while you still have time to share with them in the flesh. 

I’d like to give a shout out to my ancestors on both my occidental and Japanese side, for persevering and passing their incredible gift along; one’s one and only life. 

Bonus: I wrote a blog about how the Japanese view death.

How The Japanese View Death

Here’s how to dance Bon Odori

Significance Of Cherry Blossoms

Significance Of Cherry Blossoms

Significance Of Cherry Blossoms

Significance Of Cherry Blossoms

Yes dear reader, it is that time of the year again, the time where we all gather underneath the exquisite and ephemeral cherry blossoms to celebrate life.

What may look like just a gigantic party in Japan, is actually something that has much deeper meaning and significance to the Japanese.

The time when cherry blossoms are bloom is when the Japanese gather to reflect on just how fleeting and ephemeral life can be, all the while sitting, eating, drinking, and some times singing and dancing as they congregating beneath the majestic cherry trees.

And this year more even so in the light of the most recent global events as we continue our journey in 2020, this year holds even more significance this year.

Around the end of March beginning of April, these beautiful cherry blossoms come out for only a few days, until they are blown away, in the wind, and their life is over, in a mere instant of time.

And so it is for one as well dear reader, as we are merely here for just a fleeting moment in our once in a lifetime.

One of the most profound and meaningful experiences of my entire life was at one’s very first cherry blossoms party in 1987.

Having arrived in Japan just a few short month earlier, one’s Japanese speaking level was, to say the least, just one step from non-existent.

What left a such deep and lasting impression was a simple and genuine gesture from a lovely Japanese lady during my first initiation in to the “Way of Cherry Blossom”.

What this did was to really showed me the Japanese heart in so many ways.

I went to the spectacular cherry blossom party, and of course I was the only foreigner there among 15 non-English-speaking Japanese students and friends.

We were all having a rollicking time, including me off course (what’s not to like: pond of alcohol and forest of meat), except for the fact that everybody was speak Japanese and I couldn’t understand a word anybody was saying.

Off course, this did not detract from my pure enjoyment of the truly surreal scene.

Then, all of the sudden, this wonderful lady stopped everybody in their tracks, including all laughter and boisterous conversations and said to everyone in a headmaster style of leadership. “Look, one cannot speak Japanese, and everybody is having such a good time except for one, this is unacceptable when we have an important foreign guest here in Japan. From now on and for the rest of the party we are all going to speak English”.

This represented a serious problem, not to mention being a serious buzz kill, as none of them, except for a one or two with English 101 beginners skills could speak a lick of English anyway.

This is to where I replied in earnest “No, this is Japan, and I will learn to speak Japanese, so I can to communicate with all of you in Japanese”.

In other words “when in Rome, do as the Romans”.

I believe what I said resonated with everyone, and the party just got better after that.

This is also where, even though I had never yet consciously understood the Japanese ingrained spirit of “omotenashi,” or “hospitality, I then understood and felt the true spirit of Japanese “omotenashi”.

By the way, the word “hospitality” can not truly describe “omotenashi”, which is an ingrained cultural convention woven into the Japanese DNA and can only be understood after experiencing it first-hand.

Please come to Japan and experience the the true meaning of “omotenashi”, sitting underneath the majestic cherry trees, while contemplate one’s own mortality, and the ephemeral nature of one’s own life.

Girls Festival-Hinamatsuri

Girls Festival-Hinamatsuri

Girls Festival-Hinamatsuri

Girls Festival-Hinamatsuri

At the beginning of every March there is the spectacular Girls Festival here in Japan.

 

As you can see, the ancient cultural of Japan is alive and well in modern Japan today.

The primary aspect of the Girl’s Festival is the display of seated male and female dolls. These two main dolls are know as “obina” and meibina, respectively, and you can look upon these dolls as a representation of the Emperor and Empress.

The dolls on display are modelled after Imperial Court attire based on the royal courts of the Heian era (CE 794 to 1185)

Many of these elaborate displays include a multi-tiered doll stand representing ladies of the court, musicians, and other attendants.

The entire set of dolls and accessories is called the “hinakazari”.

The dolls are usually fairly expensive (¥200,000 to ¥500,000 for a five-tier set, depending on quality) and may be handed down from older generations as heirlooms.

In some areas of Japan, like Ibaraki prefecture, these dolls represent bragging rights and these doll sets can go up to ¥10 million and beyond.

The dolls spends most of the year in storage, and girls and their mothers begin setting up the display a few days before March 3 .

Now, the boys normally do not participate in this event, as May 5, now known as Children’s Day was historically called “Boys’ Day”. The boys get their own special item known as koinobori and Kabuto  (Japanese helmet) on their day and I will be writing about this just before this festive celebration.

The dolls were supposed to be put away by the day after Hinamatsuri, with the the superstition being that leaving the dolls out any longer would result in a late marriage for the daughter.

Historically, the dolls were used as toys, but in modern times they are intended for display only.

During Hinamatsuri and the preceding days, girls hold parties with their friends.

Typical foods include hina-arare (multi-colored rice crackers), chirashizushi (raw fish and vegetables on rice in a bowl or bento box), hishi mochi (multicolored rice cakes),(sakuramochi) (pounded rice that tastes like cherries) and ushiojiru (clam soup, as clam shells represent a joined pair), and amazake (non alcohol sake).

To add further to the fun and joyfulness of this important festival, there is the Nagashi-bina (doll floating”) ceremonies which are held around the country.

The participants make dolls out of paper or straw and send them on a boat down a river, carrying one’s impurities and sin with them. Now this sounds like a little bit of Shintoism in the mix and this is not surprising as most of these auspicious occasion are related in somehow to Way of Japanese.

Have a look at some of the extraordinary doll pyramids here.

If you are in Land Of The Rising Son around the end of February until the March 3, you can find many places with these precious and unique works of art on display throughout our country.

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