On the second day of the course, I talked about O-bon with other students in the class. Before the day, our teacher gave us a sheet of paper for preparing for explaining about O-bon in English as homework. I put my ideas and the information I searched on the Internet about O-bon on record here.
- What is the purpose of O-bon?
It is to honor and console the departed spirits of ancestors originally, but recently it’s more like family reunion.
- What do the Kanji Characters for O-bon mean? How does it relate to the holiday?
The Kanji Characters for O-bon are “御”(o) and “盆”(bon). “御” is put before other words and it expresses politeness. And “盆” usually means a round tray. O-bon doesn’t mean such a round tray, but it is derived from a Sanskrit’s word “Ullambana”, which means hanging upside down in hell and suffering. So I think the Kanji Characters themselves don’t relate to the holiday directly.
- What do people do during O-bon?
Some people visit their family graves. Some have special O-bon rituals at home, for example, light paper lanterns or small piles of twigs to welcome the departed spirits of their ancestors, decorate many things in the family alter, make special dolls with vegetables (*a horse by a cucumber and a cow by a eggplant). Some reunite their family member and friends in their hometowns and have feast with them. And some goes abroad.
- What do spirits do on O-bon?
They come back to their family or descendants’ house, being led by small fire or paper lanterns’ lights in the evening of the 13th of August by riding horses made by cucumbers. They spend two nights there (Probably they are consoled by the feast which is held by their family, and by chanting sutras.), and go back to their world by riding cows made by eggplants. The reason why they come by cucumber horses and go back by eggplant cows is that people think their ancestors want to come back home quickly and don’t want to go back so quickly. You know, horses can run even faster than cows. In general, cows seldom run. That’s interesting.
- What’s the relationship of the Bon-Odori with Obon?
Bon-Odori is held as a reminder of ancestors. The origin is an episode in India that a man started dancing unintentionally with joy because departed his mother was rescued from her suffering in the hell by embracing Buddhism. I think that ancient people started Bon-Odori to express their gratefulness for their ancestors.
- Why do people dance and wear yukatas at a Bon-Odori?
Nowadays it’s faded to welcome and console departed ancestors’ spirits, and people just dance for their joy. Yukata used to be to the most casual clothing originally. But now it’s usually rare to wear ones through a year. So people tend to wear Japanese traditional occasions like a Bon-Odori to feel Japanese spirits.
- Are there any special foods or drinks people consume during this holiday & festival?
I don’t know the answer to the question. Some says nothing special. Some says that people eat tofu during O-bon. I don’t have a clue.
- Why do you think it’s important to celebrate this holiday & festival?
Usually Japanese people are too busy to think about their family and even themselves. O-bon holidays give nice opportunities to let people think such things. People can relax and reunite family members and friends. And they may be able to promote a friendship of neighbors through the festival.
- In Western culture, what holiday is the closest to O-bon & Bon-Odori?
Theses three days are similar to O-bon. All Hallows Eve (Halloween) on October 31st, All Saints Day on November 1st, and All Souls Day on November 2nd.