July / August
Welcoming one's ancestors: Japanese lantern for O-bon is said to
illuminate the feet of the deceased to come straight to loved ones without getting lost
Tama is Tamashii which means spirit in Japanese.
Shizume, or shizumeru means to comfort in Japanese.
People welcome spirits of ancestors and see them off when it (Obon) ends.
It is said that people also dance wising for a good harvest.
People also thanked the blessings of nature.
They expressed their gratitude to nature by dancing.
Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.
The festival of Obon lasts for three days; however its starting date varies within different regions of Japan. When the lunar calendar was changed to the Gregorian calendar at the beginning of the Meiji era, the localities in Japan reacted differently and this resulted in three different times of Obon. "Shichigatsu Bon" ("Bon in July") is based on the solar calendar and is celebrated around 15 July in eastern Japan (Kantō region such as Tokyo, Yokohama and the Tōhoku region), coinciding with Chūgen. "Hachigatsu Bon" (Bon in August) is based on the lunar calendar, is celebrated around the 15th of August and is the most commonly celebrated time. "Kyū Bon" (Old Bon) is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, and so differs each year. "Kyū Bon" is celebrated in areas like the northern part of the Kantō region, Chūgoku region, Shikoku, and the Okinawa Prefecture. These three days are not listed as public holidays but it is customary that people are given leave.
Obon is a shortened form of Ullambana (Japanese: 于蘭盆會 or 盂蘭盆會, urabon'e). It is Sanskrit for "hanging upside down" and implies great suffering. The Japanese believe they should ameliorate the suffering of the "Urabanna".
Bon Odori originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), a disciple of the Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. Greatly disturbed, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and, thus, saw his mother's release. He also began to see the true nature of her past selflessness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or "Bon Dance", a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated. See also: Ullambana Sutra.
As Obon occurs in the heat of the summer, participants traditionally wear yukata, or light cotton kimonos. Many Obon celebrations include a huge carnival with rides, games, and summer festival food like watermelon.
Families sent their ancestors' spirits back to their permanent dwelling place under the guidance of fire: this rite was known as sending fire (Okuribi). Fire also marks the commencement (Mukaebi) as well as the closing of the festival.
On the first day of Obon, chochin (paper) lanterns are lit inside houses, and people bring the lanterns to their family's grave sites to call their ancestors' spirits back home. This process is called mukae-bon. In some regions, fires called mukae-bi are lit at the entrances of houses to help guide the spirits to enter.
Obon is also a time when the family visits the graves of the ancestors. They perform the ritual cleaning of the grave stones, something like outdoor housekeeping. Using a brush they wash away any dirt or stains, then rinse off the stone using a special pail of water and ladle for this purpose. Thus you’ll always find a water tap at graveyards in Japan.
On the last day, families assist in returning their ancestor's spirits back to the grave, by hanging the chochin lanterns, painted with the family crest to guide the spirits to their eternal resting place. This process is called okuri-bon. In some regions, fires called okuri-bi are lit at entrances of houses to send directly to the ancestors' spirits. During Obon, the smell of senko incense fills Japanese houses and cemeteries.
Although floating lanterns have gained popularity globally in the last few years, they are known as toro nagashi in Japanese, and they are a beautiful part of the traditions observed during Obon. Inside each toro nagashi is a candle, that will eventually burn out, and the lantern will then float down a river that runs to the ocean. By using the toro nagashi, family members can beautifully, and symbolically send off their ancestors' spirits into the sky by way of the lanterns.
The Buddhist monk called Kuya came up with the idea of dancing while hitting the gourd when he prayed.
This was called Odori Nembutsu. Odori means dance and Nembutsu means recitation of the name of Buddha.
It is said that it combined with Urabon-e which holds a memorial service for ancestors became Bon Odori.
Dango mochi balls are a typical gift for the spirits, but other more unique offerings exist, as well. Somen is meant to help visiting ancestors wrap up their belongings with the noodle threads when they return to heaven. Meanwhile people believe that ohagi, or mochi with red bean paste, removes demons due to its color.
An interesting Obon tradition is making miniature horses and cows out of cucumber and eggplant. You simply stick disposable chopsticks in to form the legs, then position the creation outside the door on the first day of Obon with lit incense to help guide the spirits. The horse encourages the spirits to hurry, while the cow lets the ancestors know they should take their time.