August 21, 2008

Obon (お盆) is a very traditional celebration in the mid of August during which the souls of departed ancestors are believed to return to their hometowns to visit their descendants. People all over the country travel to their parents’ houses, set up Buddhist altars and decorate them with proper offerings (which can conveniently be purchased at Obon corners in the supermarkets). Special lanterns are set up that should guide the spirits on their way home. For the same reason, sometimes small fires intermixed with incense sticks are lit in front of the houses – as a greeting of the ancestors, and as help to guide them into our world and to the correct home. At the house altars, people burn incense sticks (two at a time, out of some reason), ring a singing bowl, fold their hands and pray. You see monks out on the street, visiting some houses to perform specific rites.

I had the chance to experience this traditional and private festival firsthand: My former host family (who made my very first visit to Japan possible) invited me to spend these days with them and to participate actively – an offer that I accepted gladly. The photos below show some of the described stuff. Then again, some scenes which I simply liked: For example, the view of some “anti mosquito incense” in front of a Japanese sliding wall. Or a picture of a tatami (straw mat) – with its nice, earthly smell and the fine texture, great for sleeping on it – facing the garden.

On the second day, there was a kind of fire celebration: Small though somewhat heavy balls on strings were set on fire, and people (especially children) hurled these fireballs in the direction of a straw “nest” on a long pole, in order to hit and ignite it. The whole action looked kinda risky, especially when from time to time the balls went of into the wrong direction (accompanied by loud shouts of “ahhh, dangerous, dangerous”), but also made lots of fun. Of course, all caution was thrown aside when enjoying the mesmerizing view of the burning fireballs in the dark night, and hearing the laughing voices. The last four pictures are from my last dinner with the host family, eating soumen noodles – a traditional dish when someone is leaving, wishing for a good journey.

只管打坐  •  nothing but sitting


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