Sunday, August 14, 2005

Obon Weekend

This weekend is Obon festival. Obon has been explained to me as being the Japanese day(s) of the dead. It is a Buddhist tradition celebrating the return of one's ancestors. This involves hanging lanterns outside your house and lighting lamps in the family Buddhist shrine to show your ancestors the way home. Incense is burned and food and other offerings are made to the ancestors.

Yesterday, I was invited out to dinner in Pippu. I was glad that I had thought to bring a gift. In Japan, it is customary to bring some small token when you visit someone's home, but this is even more important during Obon time. So, my gift was brought to the family shrine and offered to Ota-san's ancestors. I was also invited to introduce myself to her ancestors -- lighting incense, ringing the bell, and making a short prayer. When you do all this, you are not allowed to blow on anything -- no blowing out the incense once it is lit, or blowing out the candle. I guess it makes the ancestors jealous, because they can't breathe anymore? It was a very interesting experience, although Ota-san said that because I didn't look Japanese, her ancestors probably wouldn't be interested in me.

Ota-san explained to me that the family shrine is passed through the family to the oldest son. Also, the ancestors celebrated are only the male relatives. In the shrine room are portraits of only the men in the family. The room that houses Ota-san's shrine room is also interesting because the Buddhist shrine and the Shinto shrine have been placed one on top of the other. This is quite unusual. In most homes, even if the two are in the same room the are usually on opposite ends. I would have taken pictures (the shrine was quite ornate and beautiful), but I didn't feel it was very appropriate. I don't think Ota-san would have minded though -- she is quite laid back (and talks like an Aussie after going to university there).
At Obon time, all of the other relatives must come to the home of the oldest son to pay their respects to their ancestors. Combined with this, most people are given time off of work to perform their Obon duties. Generally, this is from Friday to Tuesday, so most people travel during this time. And let me tell you, the highways are incredibly busy! I chose a great time to make my first venture out onto Hokkaido highways by myself!
I will be working during Obon. Too bad, because I have received all sorts of invitations to go mountain climbing and other sorts of things on Monday and Tuesday. I really do need to go to work though -- I have to get ready to start teaching! That being said, I really hope that I will be able to go to the Obon ceremony at the Buddhist shrine next to the Board of Education Office. I met the gentleman that runs it at the Rotary club dinner I went to on Thursday, and he invited me to come. I think it would be a really neat event to attend.

1 comment:

fvr8toy said...

Sounds like you have had a busy and interesting weekend. I have been following what you are posting but have not tried to comment - that means registering and everything.