Celebration – Japan

My informant learned of this holiday from her mother, who is a native to Japan, coming to the United States in 1950.  In attempts to expose my informant to the Japanese culture, her mother told her of different holidays celebrated in Japan.  There are three very famous holidays: New Years, Golden Week, and Obon.  Obon, which means “Festival of the Dead,” particularly stuck with Kathy until now because it is so different from any holiday in America.  It is a three-day celebration that occurs in West Japan from August 13th through the 15th.  In East Japan, some celebrate it at the end of July.  My informant explains that the holiday is not creepy, but very respectful and representative of the Japanese culture because its purpose is to pay respect to elders.  Kathy is not sure what the significance is, but the Japanese fold paper boats and they float them down rivers.  It is a holiday where the Japanese honor and remember the people who they were close to but died.

Traditionally, Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors.  It is believed that during this holiday, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.  It is traditional for lanterns to be hung in front of houses to guide the spirits, for obon dances, or bon odori, to be performed, and for the people to visit graves and offer food made at house altars and temples.  At the end of Obon, the lanterns are put into rivers, lakes, and seas in order to guide the spirits back into their world.  This is different from what Kathy learned because customs vary strongly from region to region.

I think this item of folklore is very representative of Japanese culture.  They believe it is very important to honor ancestors and it is even expected of them to act as caretakers when they get old and need assistance.  We don’t have any holidays like this in America because we do not view our elders in the same light, although we should.

Annotation:  Anonymous. Japanese Lantern Lighting Festical to be Held August 20.  Asian Pages. St. Paul: Vol. 16, Iss. 24.  Retrieved March 2, 2007, from www.ProQuest.com.