Friday, September 10, 2010

Obon Holiday and Bon Odori Party

Living abroad, sometimes you could almost live a holiday-less life (the ones you find important might not be recognized and the ones they celebrate, you might not recognize).   Here, in Japan, a buddhist country, many holidays are not shared, such as Christmas, Easter, then the non-religious ones like Thanksgiving and Halloween.  Of course, I LOVE holidays and we don't let any slip by unnoticed.  For the past few years, mainly when a Japanese holiday comes along, I celebrate by being able to see my husband on his extra day off of work, and I stay off the roads to avoid the crowds.  This year, I decided to take a particular interest in the Japanese holidays, how they are celebrated and what they mean.  They, afterall, do take a liking to our holidays for the interest in a foreign culture.

This year, I bought a book to use for homeschool called Around the World through Holidays.  We love to base a lot of our lessons on holidays, and it seemed appropriate to study many world holidays since not only do we live in a foreign country, but we live with people from many other countries who have their own holidays too.  In this book, each month focuses on one country that has a major holiday occuring, there is a play about the holiday, and then suggested cross-curricular activities to go along with it.  Oddly enough, the holiday for the month of August was from Japan, the Obon Holiday.

Before now, I'd say this holiday to me was a three day extension of my husband's summer vacation without having to use actual vacation days.  Here's what it really means:

Being a mainly Buddhist and Shinto culture, the Japanese believe that their ancestor's spirits can return to  them to visit and this is during Obon Holiday.  It is usually celebrate for three days in mid-August.  Families place things by their home altars to remember their lost loved ones, they visit their graves and clean off the stones, and light lanterns to help the spirits follow them home from the cemetery.  A white lantern is used for a person who died less than a year from the last Obon holiday.    After the spirits spend three days with their families, there is a dance performance, called Bon Odori, and a drum performance- they believe the music and dancing comforts the spirits.  On that last evening, family members then have a ceremony called Toro-Nagashi, where they light lanterns again, and float them down rivers to help send the spirits back to heaven.

You know, the neighborhood club here where we live has had a Bon Odori party that we have attended for the last four years and I never knew the meaning of it.  Every year, there is a Bon Odori dance contest and they hire Taiko drum performers to come and they have lanterns all around the pool.  Everyone in the neighborhood comes in Japanese attire and we eat, drink, and the children get to play lots of fun games.  I am sorry that I did not take the time to learn earlier what it was all truly about.

Here are some pictures from our Bon Odori party:

Me and the kids (Dave was out of town for a work trip):

All the ladies in the neighborhood:

The lanterns around the pool:

Kids playing a popular Japanese game, where you are given a paper wand and you dip it into a pool to fetch rubber bouncy balls.  Each kid was given a plastic fish in their bag of balls, in real Japanese events, I have seen them getting real goldfish.

Taiko drum performance:

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