Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Obon Festival


In the middle of the steamy heat of summer in Japan falls a festival filled with lanterns, all night dances and ghosts, well the spirits of deceased ancestors at least. This Buddhist festival is called “Obon”. It has been likened to the American Halloween but is much more a religious event than one of pumpkin lanterns, fancy dress costumes and candy.

In many places here it falls around the 13th to the 15th of August though because traditionally the date was taken from the Lunar calendar this can vary in different areas. This festival is seen as a time to honour the selfless acts of the families’ ancestors.

At the beginning of the festival season, graves are cleaned and spirits are welcomed home with fires and lanterns helping guide them. They are offered food, flowers and incense and prayers are often said.

At the end of the festival fires are lit once more to remind the houseguests that it’s time to return to the world of the dead and to guide them on their way, in the knowledge that they will come home again next year.

In the middle, dance festivals are held, known as bon-odori. These Japanese folkdances are performed by young and old, many in yukata, (summer cotton kimono) circling a raised platform on which taiko drums keep the beat.

Last weekend we went to our first dance for the season. It was held in a small local shrine. The location highlights how Japanese have incorporated two distinct religions into their lives, the shrine is Shinto, yet the festival is Buddhist.

This particular evening was a special one held for the children. While the recorded songs were broadcast through a tinny speaker, the serious, young taiko performers, dressed in blue happi coats, kept beat. Around their platform was a swarm of colour created by children in bright yukata and their parents alongside them. The audience lit by the hanging lanterns watched with beaming smiles while fluttering paper fans. Wayne and I, the only gaijin there, were warmly welcomed. I was pulled up and taught the dances while Wayne managed a conversation with mostly with smiles and nods.

This won’t be the only dance we attend this season, we are going to another local one and then to Japan’s largest held in Gujo-Hachiman. There for three nights the dancing continues until the early hours of the morning. It has been called "A dance which you dance not a dance which you watch." And that’s just what we’ll be doing – dancing the night away.

1 comment:

Mel & Seigo said...

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Mel