In many parts of Japan, Obon takes place around the 15th of August, over a period of several days. There are various regional customs associated with it.
On the first day of Obon, small fires are lit at the entrance to homes. This is done to help the ancestral spirits find their way home.
During the Obon period, there’s a tradition to make “cucumber horses” and “aubergine oxen”. This is based on the desire for the ancestors to come to visit as fast as possible riding on horses, but to leave as slowly as possible ridden on oxen.
A special table is set up for the spirits, and offerings of the spirits as if they were still alive.
On the last day of Obon- August the 16th- fires are lit to send the spirits back to the world of the dead. One of the grandest send-off displays is Kyoto’s Gozan no Okuribi.
The sticks of firewood used for the bonfires are offering on which people have written massages to their ancestors.
Torchbearers climb up the hillsides carrying torches blessed by Buddhist priests, and light one pile of firewood after another.
Here, we see an ideogram on the hillside- bright and magnificent. These bonfires are thought to help guide the spirits back to their world.
These events and practices related to Obon provide a glimpse into the Japanese outlook on life and death, which is based on the notion that people should always give a warm welcome to the spirits of the deceased.
-“Trad Japan”, NHK publisher, 2011 August
Since I luckily lives in Kyoto, we went to see Gozan no Okuribi. It was beautiful.
Now, my friend Jessica and I are talking about Obon and views of life and death.