Our group programs coordinator, Gen, has been away recently, visiting his family and friends back home in Japan. Gen has been writing about his experiences in Japan and providing us with some insight on Japanese culture. Read Gen's post below to learn about one of the traditional holiday seasons occurring in Japan this month!
Greetings from Japan! I am currently back in my country Japan just temporarily, seeing my family and relatives for the first time after two years and reuniting with my old friends. These past two weeks have been wonderful and have really been enjoying the authentic Japanese foods here, but also I’m excited to come back to Boston in about a week and be back in the office!
So, in this Blog I’d like to talk about one of the traditional holiday seasons in Japan, called “Obon.” The Obon holiday runs for about a week before and after the 15th of August, and just like the Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays in the U.S., everybody takes some days-off from work to celebrate this yearly tradition. Typically, people travel back to their homes to visit their families, and have family reunions with a lot of foods and drinks to celebrate with. Towns and villages throughout the country organize large festivals at parks and shrines for those who celebrate the holiday. It’s not very common in where I am from, but in some regions people celebrate the holiday with parades and massive bonfires. There are no rules about what foods to serve and it varies a lot from prefecture to prefecture. Here in Ishikawa prefecture, people usually prepare fresh fish and root vegetables like radish because Ishikawa by the ocean and abundant in rich soils.
When did this tradition originate? The exact time is actually not certain as different websites say the different times in history, but the general idea is that it began around 600 A.D. as a Buddhist ritual to welcome ancestral spirits back to the earth for the week to demonstrate respects to them. Haka-Mairi, or grave visits, are one of the most important and widely-practiced family traditions for this holiday. People visit the graveyard of their ancestors, decorate the gravestone with flowers and special ornaments, and pray for the well-being and good health of their family members for another year to come. Again the traditions and ritual customs vary slightly in different areas in Japan, but the picture below is how these gravestones during the Obon time usually look.
I talked about the religious aspects of what Obon is, but the most important part of this holiday is that this is when Japanese people have reunions with families and friends, and along with New Year’s Day (or Oshogatsu) this holiday brings back all generations in the family. Many families plan their August activities based on their own Obon celebration date in August. With all the Obon themed festivals, fireworks and “bon-odori” Japanese traditional dance events, this holiday is the absolute favorite for many Japanese.