Saturday, September 12, 2009

Belated Obon Post

Obon was about a month ago now but it was one of the coolest things that has happened in Japan so I think I will tell you about it now that I’m finally getting around to writing. Ubon is a holiday that lasts three days. If my understanding is correct, which I wouldn’t bet money on, it is a holiday in which people invite their ancestors home to visit their house for a few days. Living relatives are also invited home at this time and everybody eats big meals together, so it’s sometimes compared to Thanksgiving. Aizawasensei, my wonderful supervisor and one of my best friends in Japan invited all of the ALTs (foreign assistant language teachers) to her parent’s house for the last night of Obon. Nikko had other plans, so me, Allan and Nichola went. Aizawa’s parent’s house was a big beautiful traditional Japanese house. Her father loves to garden and their front yard is a beautiful traditional style Japanese garden, complete with little pond and fountain, gravel covered ground, and beautifully pruned trees, sculpted into lovely shapes. Their house has a beautiful traditional roof, made up of curved grey tiles, and the inside of their house was full of wood and tatami (woven straw mats). For dinner Aizawa Sensei served us sushi rice, and fixings (tofu, omelet, shitashi mushroom, pickled ginger etc.) wrapped up in certain kind of leaf. It was delicious. There were also vinegared vegetables, tofu stuffed with rice, edamame and tea – both hot and iced.

After dinner Aizawa, her family (parents, sister, niece, daughter and son) and Nichola Alan and I went into the room with the family alter, over which were placed old black and white photos of, I’m assuming, deceased relatives. If I have this right, it was now time to send the ancestors back to their usual place of residence, wherever that is. We all knelt before the alter and Aizawa’s father passed out copies of a Buddhist scripture that the family then chanted together. The scripture was written both in Kanji (Characters based on Chinese Characters) and hiragana (a phonetic alphabet). I can pretty much sound out hiragana but I’m very slow so I couldn’t keep up with the chanting but it was really cool to listen to.

After we sent the ancestors home we went out to a pond out past the back yard, around which there were, maybe, 10 houses. The pond was originally a clay mining pit that had then been filled with water. All the neighbors were gathered with their returned family members. The group ranged from aged grandparents to their toddling grandchildren. We lit incense and candles. Floating lanterns were put in the water and hanging lanterns were lit all around the pond, making beautiful reflections, some moving, some stationary. Fireworks were set off, beer and soda pop were drunk and candies and snacks were passed around. We returned to the house and Aizawa’s kids put the last of the paper lanterns they had made into the little pond in the back yard. Aizawa’s daughter and niece are both gifted artists so the designs they had drawn on the lanterns were quite impressive. The current created by the fountain kept pushing the lanterns back to shore and the kids kept pushing them back out again.

Aizawa's family gave us each a little gift to take home. We opened them in the front hall when we got back to our building. They were candy dishes made out of paper with designs in them made from colored paper. They had hooks in the back so they could be hung on the wall and that’s where mine is now. Nichola and I had an argument over whose was better. Mine is of a little girl in a colorful kimono blowing into a fire through a tube. I think the fact that I can’t remember Nichola’s shows that I was right.

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