OBON (お盆) [more than 4 seasons]
BETTER NOT to meet up with Japanese people during “OBON”
Either you work with Japanese people or you have Japanese friends who live in Japan, you might want to meet up with them while you are visiting Japan. But “OBON” is the time of the year to avoid meeting up, unless you were invited to experience the OBON tradition with their family.
In this article I will walk you through the culture behind it and the reason to avoid it, as well as a trip tip to keep you safe.
- WHEN & WHAT is OBON
- The Tradition Makes your heart warm: The secret behind the cucumber & eggplant
- Listen to what grandma said: DO NOT GO INTO the sea from OBON.
WHEN & WHAT is OBON
OBON starts from August 13th until 16th, every year. But it depends on what part of Japan you will be in. For some places it is from July 13th until 16th, Okinawa’s OBON is from July 13th until 16th of the old calendar. In Kagawa, where we are, it is August 13th until 16th.
It is the time of the year that the spirits of our ancestors come home. It is the time for us to welcome these spirits. The customs and traditions on how to welcome the spirits are different depending on religions, areas and the family traditions.
But commonly, we gather at one house to spend time there, visit the cemetery to clean up there and put flowers or do some special decoration for it.
If you come across with the word “BON-ODORI (盆踊り)” it is the dance that people in the area dance together for OBON. Some places have bonfires.
The Tradition Makes your heart warm: The secret behind the cucumber & eggplant
You might have wondered what they are. You might have been offended that we played with food. But this cucumber and eggplant takes up very important parts of OBON for us.
These are called “SHOU-RYOU-MA (精霊馬)”. These are the rides which our ancestors ride back home with.
The cucumber is a horse. We make this so that our ancestors can ride back home as fast as they can.
The eggplant is an ox. We make this for ancestors to go back to the otherworld. But we don’t want them to go back there so quickly. So, we organize an ox for them to ride back. Because an ox is way slower than a horse.
If you search the word “精霊馬”, you will find the cool crafts that people make for their ancestors. Some create sports cars with cucumbers so that they can come home super fast!
Listen to what grandma said: DO NOT GO INTO the sea from OBON
When I was child, my grandmother and mother told me this. Many Japanese people must have heard the phrase somewhere in their life.
What grown-ups tell you when you are a child is…
“The spirits are back here. Some are bad spirits. If you go into the sea, the bad spirits will pull your legs into the water!”
BUT actually why grown-ups say things like that is… the sea water temperature used to go up around this time of the year and jellyfish show up in the water a lot. To prevent kids from being stung by jellyfish, grown-ups tell kids the story.
HOWEVER… for the last 10 years or longer, sea temperature will go up earlier than when I was kids, at least the sea around Shikoku island, where we are. So, if you are planning to visit Japan and dip in the sea, watch out for jellyfish. Not every kind is harmful but some are really dangerous.
WHY YOU BETTER NOT MEET UP WITH JAPANESE PEOPLE DURING OBON
As I explained, OBON is the time for family to gather and honor, pay respect to our ancestors as well as the time for us to remember the recently passed ones. Usually people have the family tradition of how to spend the OBON as family.
Even said that, not every single Japanese person spends OBON the traditional way. So, if you are in Japan during OBON and want to meet up with Japanese people, mention that you know the tradition of OBON and ask them if they have family engagement. If you are lucky, you might be invited to their family gathering with the local “MATSURI (festival)”.
The item we used for the photo: KUDE TRAY -HAKKAKU-
The wood tray used in the photo was created by our listed artisan. If you are curious about it, we are happy to answer your questions in person virtually. The pattern can be customized the way you like, so, even if you are ready to place an order, we strongly recommend having a virtual consultation, once with our curator.
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