Persisting summer heat continues; I hope you are all coping well.
O-bon takes place in at a special time of the year that is closely related to our everyday lives. The first Bon held after the 49-day memorial of a death (shijukunichi) is referred to Shinbon (Niibon), and special a service is arranged for the occasion. In Iwaki City, people have long been following the tradition of ‘Jangara-Nenbutsu Odori’, a local performing art in which people go around from house to house dancing, accompanied by drums and gongs and chanting Buddhist phrases.
In the midst of Earthquake’s aftermath, I believe it was very difficult for many families to provide the usual memorial service for their deceased for during the spring Higan this year. So, I imagine the Bon this summer will to be the Hatsubon (First Bon) for many who lost their lives in the March-disaster. No doubt, this Bon ceremony will not only provide some kind of closure for the bereaved families but also mean something significant for many people.
【Everybody returning home for O-bon】
Many existing local customs suggest that Japanese people genuinely believe that the departed (deceased) spirits of ancestors return home during Bon period. For Mukae Bon (the first day of the Obon), and Okuri Bon (the last day of the Obon) for example, they make a small bonfire to light up the entrance of the houses, or when they visit their family grave they use a chochin (traditional Japanese lantern) that people often used when walking in the dark. The original intention of the chochin is not just to guide themselves in the dark, but to provide guiding lights for their ancestors’ spirits to find their way home.
One may also find ornaments made of aubergines (eggplants) or cucumbers on the Buddhist alter and shelves. The cucumber ornament represent a horse on which the deceased’s spirits may return to the home quickly, and the aubergine (eggplant) represents a cow on which they can return to the spiritual world slowly.
As for the homecoming rush which we all are familiar with, and quite honestly which we are all sick and tired of, be it by air, highway or railway (on the Shinkansen), whichever the form of transportation you choose, it’s all packed! Despite all the hustle involved, people still find a way to come home for the O-bon holidays. It is not just spirits of ancestors who return home, but family members, friends, and relatives, all those loved ones who live away from home are looking forward to seeing familiar faces for the O-bon. By getting together, through the ritual of visiting one’s ancestors’ grave to pay respects, we show our respect to the origin of our lives; the reason why we exist. For Japanese, O-bon is not just a long holiday to relax, but rather an opportunity given to us to appreciate the lives that we are given.
【Appreciation for being kept alive】
Holding special ceremonies for the deceased gives us moments to think of those who have passed away and a sense that we are alive. We cannot live on our own; our life depends on many blessings which we cannot live without. The O-bon season gives us a good opportunity to look at ourselves and realise that we are dependant on many things; our family, all those who we associated with, our home, furniture, food and drink, animals and plants, water, the sun and earth, electrical power, and air. This circle of life which has been passed on from generation to generation since the mankind started and will continue into the future has given us life. O-bon provides us with a chance to be grateful we were born into this world and realize the preciousness of life.
All lives have ending and we live only once. We are given this life by our parents. We all must realize that we have to make the best of it for the sake of those who could not make it through. It is our genuine wish from the Volunteer Centre to provide whatever help we can. Let us know what we can do to help you.
Rev. Chishu Yonezawa (Buddhist priest of the Soto Sect), the Chairperson of the Relief Operations of the All Japan Young Buddhist Association