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The Final Information to Japan’s Obon Pageant


You might already be acquainted with celebrations that honor the departed. In Mexico, there’s the colourful Día de Los Muertos (“Day of the Useless”), whereas European nations commemorate All Saints’ Day. 

In Japan, many have fun the ever widespread Obon Pageant, or just Obon (お盆). It is without doubt one of the most vital holidays in Japan. Throughout Obon, households collect to honor their ancestors, who they consider quickly come again from the religious realm to go to them. On the shut of Obon, the household then guides their spirits again to their very own world. 

Under, we’ll check out the numerous traditions of Japan’s Obon competition, from lanterns that welcome spirits residence to the intricate steps of bon odori (盆踊り). 

When you’re concerned about participating with Japanese tradition on a deeper stage—from Obon to conventional tea ceremonies—studying Japanese is the right option to develop your data. Rosetta Stone may also help you are taking the following step in your language journey! Via participating immersion, rapid pronunciation suggestions, and bite-sized classes, you possibly can study Japanese from anyplace at your individual tempo. 

Why is the Obon Pageant celebrated in Japan?

The roots of Obon are present in a Buddhist story initially from India. Custom says a Buddhist disciple noticed his mom struggling within the afterlife and requested the Buddha find out how to assist her. He was instructed to offer considerable choices to the monks on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. When the disciple did so, his mom was launched from her struggling. 

As Buddhism unfold in Japan, this story and the related customs had been additionally adopted. Over time, nonetheless, the custom advanced. It grew to become a widespread cultural observance in Japan, slightly than a strictly non secular one, taking up distinctive Japanese beliefs and practices. The character of the vacation shifted, centering the follow of paying tribute to all ancestors. 

Obon will get its title from the Sanskrit phrase ullambana. Its literal that means is “to hold the other way up”, because the disciple’s mom had in purgatory. Now it’s related to “deliverance from struggling”. When this phrase was transliterated into Japanese, it grew to become “Urabanna”, then “Urabon”, and at last “Obon”.

ancient-moss-covered-cemetery-shrines-in-japan

When is the Obon Pageant in Japan?

In most components of Japan, Obon festivities are held from August 13 to August 16.

Nevertheless, the dates of the Obon Pageant can differ relying on the area! Generally even components of the identical prefecture will have fun Obon on completely different days. 

Locations the place Obon isn’t held on August 13-August 16 sometimes have fun from July 13-July 16.

If you’re not in Japan however wish to take part in Obon, attempt searching for occasions in your space! Whereas Japanese folks typically get days off for this vacation, sadly this isn’t the case overseas. Subsequently Obon festivals in different nations are prone to be held on weekends.

As a result of variation, you’ll wish to test the date for Obon the place you might be. Normally it will likely be someday between July to September.

Why is Obon generally held on completely different days?

Traditionally, the time for Obon was determined primarily based on the lunar calendar. Though it was initially held on thirteenth to the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, it shifted to August when transformed to the Gregorian calendar. 

The July date took place when Japan switched to the Gregorian calendar. This alteration was made throughout the Meiji period—well-known for being the time Japan opened as much as the world—with a view to foster higher relations with western nations.

In areas the place many of the work was workplace jobs, it was comparatively simple to alter the dates for Obon. This is the reason Tōkyō and different city areas are likely to have fun Obon in July.

Then again, in areas the place many of the work was agricultural and due to this fact depending on the seasons, this proposed change was too tough. Thus August remained the time to have fun Obon.

Okinawa is a novel case however really finest adheres to the historic legacy. They nonetheless have fun instantly in accordance with the lunar calendar. When transformed to the Gregorian calendar, the date shifts annually. As they follow the “previous” time, their celebration is usually known as “previous Obon“, or Kyuubon (旧盆).

Obon Pageant traditions

Over the course of 4 days, Japanese communities follow a wide range of traditions that welcome spirits residence, honor them whereas they’re right here, and ship them again to their resting locations. 

Day 1: Calling the spirits residence

On the primary day of Obon, households have interaction within the traditions of mukae bon (迎え盆), the place mukae means “to welcome” or “to exit and meet.” 

One of the crucial distinctive issues they do is about out a cucumber and an eggplant propped up on chopsticks. These greens symbolize the completely different steeds ancestors trip whereas coming in and going out. The cucumber is supposed to appear like a quick horse, ushering a quick arrival; the eggplant represents a slow-moving cow, so the spirits can have a leisurely return. They’re known as shouryou uma (精霊馬, actually “spirit horse”) and shouryou ushi (精霊牛, “spirit cow”) respectively.

Most individuals do a grave go to (お墓参り, o haka mairi) on the primary day of Obon. At the moment, they clear the graves of their deceased family members and make choices. Commonplace choices embrace flowers, incense, and meals. Additionally they place bon lanterns (盆提灯, bon djōchin) there, which act as beacons to information the spirits to their households.

The mukaebi (迎え火, “welcoming fires”) likewise direct their ancestors to the correct place. Historically, households will mild a small bonfire at residence within the night. Nevertheless, out of security issues there was a shift in the direction of hanging bon lanterns at homes as an alternative.

Day 2 and three: Festivities and conventional bon dances 

A lot of Obon has a extra solemn tone. However this time can also be livened up with dances! 

The normal dances carried out throughout Obon are referred to as bon odori (盆踊り; bon is identical character utilized in Obon, and odori is actually “dance”). 

Folks will don mild cotton kimono referred to as yukata (浴衣) and collect in giant numbers to take part within the bon odori and the encompassing competition. Whereas there are non secular explanations for most of the dance strikes, most individuals merely benefit from the jubilant ambiance. Like different Japanese festivals, there are prone to be stalls with avenue meals and carnival video games.

Throughout the second and third days of Obon, households additionally merely take pleasure in spending time collectively. It is not uncommon for folks to journey again to their hometowns. The household could put together particular meals and put aside time to recollect the deceased.

Day 4: Sending off the spirits 

The final day has the reverse of mukae bon: okuri bon (送り盆). Okuri means “to ship off.” 

As mukae bon featured the lighting of mukaebi, there are corresponding okuribi (送り火, “sending off fires”). Town of Kyōto is particularly well-known for his or her monumental mountainside okuribi (pictured above) which type Japanese kanji characters and different symbols.

A stupendous ceremony referred to as Tōrō Nagashi (灯篭流し) can also be normally held on the final day of Obon. For this ceremony, 1000’s of floating lanterns are launched onto giant our bodies of water. It’s believed that these lanterns lead the spirits residence. 

plate-of-round-white-dango-a-popular-japanese-food-eating-during-the-japanese-obon-festival

Obon Pageant meals

There’s no particular listing of meals for Obon, however listed below are a number of the hottest decisions. These meals may very well be consumed or just given as choices.  

  • Ohagi (おはぎ): A conventional Japanese candy made by coating mochi rice with candy purple bean paste (あんこ, anko).
  • Dango (団子): A kind of candy dumpling. Totally different sorts of dango are eaten for varied events, however the ones sometimes eaten for Obon are plain white and organized in a pyramid form.
  • Vegetable tempura (野菜の天ぷら): Deep-fried greens resembling okra, eggplant, and candy potato.
  • Sōmales (素麺): Lengthy, very skinny noodles which are typically served chilly. There are a number of theories as to why sōmales is related to Obon: the size may symbolize a protracted interval of happiness, or the form could resemble the reins of the “spirit horses” that ancestors trip to journey to their household within the residing world. When sōmales is given as an providing, it might be cooked or raw. 
  • The favourite meals of deceased kin: Obon is a time to commemorate members of the family who’ve handed, and a technique to take action is to partake of their favourite meals.

Issues to keep away from throughout the Obon Pageant

Greater than most holidays, Obon is targeted on exhibiting respect. In an effort to not commit a pretend paus, it’s good to know the primary issues to keep away from throughout Obon.

  • Sure varieties of flowers: Usually, the flowers you provide to ancestors must be understated, and white is the popular shade. Nevertheless, there are particular sorts of flowers to particularly keep away from giving: unfortunate flowers (resembling camellias and black flowers), toxic flowers (resembling purple spider lilies and daffodils), flowers with thorns, and strong-smelling flowers.
  • Coming into water: One of many customs of Obon is to set floating lanterns on water to information the spirits again. Thus getting into an ocean or river throughout this time may very well be seen as a signal of disrespect. And even worse, it’s believed the spirits could drag you with them again to the afterlife! There are additionally sensible causes to keep away from the water, resembling that point of summer time being peak jellyfish and hurricane season. 
  • Getting married: The ambiance of Obon for probably the most half is subdued with plain white dango and flowers. Thus the thrill of a marriage will not be a superb match. It is also seen as thoughtless on a logistical stage, as households would already be busy with Obon actions earlier than stacking on a marriage. 
  • Meat: Since Obon was initially a Buddhist customized, it’s thought of extra respectful to observe a Buddhist food plan. This implies usually sticking to vegetarian meals.
obon-festival-tent-where-bon-odori-dances-are-held

How does the Obon Pageant evaluate to China’s Ghost Pageant?

China celebrates the same competition to Obon. The Taoist model is known as Zhōng yuán jié (中元节), and the Buddhist model is known as Yú lán pén (盂兰盆). Both model is known as the “Ghost Pageant” or “Hungry Ghost Pageant” in English.

As you could count on, the Buddhist model has extra in frequent with Obon. It’s primarily based on the identical Buddhist story of a disciple saving his mom. It’s additionally speculated that the title Yú lán pén likewise comes from the Sanskrit phrase ullambana

Much like Obon, members within the Ghost Pageant make meals choices and set floating lanterns on the water for the spirits. 

One of many most important practices that units the Ghost Pageant aside is the burning of “hell cash.” Although it might resemble actual foreign money, it’s not authorized tender, and is as an alternative particularly designed for burning as an providing. Chinese language folks consider that ghosts additionally use cash and may have it to deal with monetary issues. By burning “hell cash”, it may be despatched over to the afterlife.

One other distinction is the flowery Chinese language opera performances. Whereas anybody can watch, the entrance row is reserved for ghosts and is saved empty. 

Obon celebrations around the globe

As Japanese communities have fashioned around the globe, Obon celebrations have additionally unfold. Listed here are another nations that partake in Obon:

  • Malaysia: The Bon Odori Pageant has been held in Malaysia since 1977. It began as a small occasion amongst Japanese immigrants, however has since significantly expanded.  
  • The Philippines: Totally different Filipino-Japanese organizations accomplice to host occasions just like the Philippine-Japan Pageant in October, which options bon dances.
  • Brazil: The state of São Paolo in Brazil has the biggest Japanese inhabitants outdoors of Japan. There, Obon is celebrated on November 2, since on that day the same vacation for visiting graves already existed in Brazil (Dia de Finados, “Day of the Deceased”). Folks of Japanese descent merely modified its title amongst themselves and name that vacation Obon as an alternative.
  • Argentina: Brazil may need the biggest Japanese inhabitants outdoors of Japan, however actually not the solely one. In Argentina, the gathering in La Plata attracts greater than 10,000 folks a yr. 
  • America: Whereas you’ll find native Obon celebrations all around the nation, California and Hawaii have the biggest Japanese populations. In a single yr, round 50,000 folks attended the occasion Lantern Floating Hawaii, modeled after the follow of Tōrō Nagashi.
  • Canada: Much like the US, smaller Obon occasions are held all through Canada. One significantly particular observance is the cleansing of graves on Vancouver Island the place Japanese immigrants had been buried.

It’s not essential to go to Japan to take part in Obon! There are Japanese organizations in a mess of nations concerned about sharing and educating about Japanese tradition. We advocate reaching out to teams in your space to seek out out extra out native Obon festivals. 

square-lanterns-floating-on-the-ocean

Widespread Japanese phrases to know for Obon celebrations

Obon ni furusato ni kaerimasu, お盆に故郷に帰ります (I’ll return to my hometown for Obon)

For Obon, folks typically return to the place the place they grew up. That place is known as their “furusato”. When you perceive a bit about kanji, you could discover it attention-grabbing that the identical characters for furusato can be learn as kokyou, which has the identical that means.

When you’d wish to ask somebody whether or not they are going to return to their hometown for Obon, you possibly can ask “Obon ni furusato ni kaerimasu ka?”

O haka mairi shimasu, お墓参りします (I’ll do a grave go to)

O haka mairi–when one visits the graves of deceased loves ones–is a central customized of obon. 

When you’d wish to ask somebody whether or not they are going to do a grave go to, you possibly can ask, “o haka mairi shimasu ka?”

Itsumo mimamotte kurete arigatou gozaimasu, いつも見守ってくれてありがとうございます (thanks for all the time watching over me)

This can be a good commonplace prayer to direct in the direction of the ancestors to honor them and present appreciation for your loved ones legacy.

Discover Japanese with Rosetta Stone

The custom of Obon alludes to vital facets of Japanese tradition. Obon incorporates Japan’s mythology, in addition to its values of household and respecting forebears. Studying about holidays like Obon expands our understanding of the world and offers us higher appreciation for its variety.

Language studying additional opens that gateway to different cultures, concepts, and celebrations you by no means would have imagined! For these wanting to embark on a linguistic journey, Rosetta Stone provides immersive classes that emphasize pure language acquisition slightly than rote memorization. As you follow talking and develop native pronunciation utilizing TruAccent, you could be assured as you set your new abilities to the check and discover what the world has to supply.  

Written by Lydia Thron  

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