On a par with celebrating the New Year’s holidays in terms of importance and meticulous preparations, obon—which usually lasts for four to five days around August 15—is one of the most important family events of the year in Japan. Often compared to Halloween abroad, though quite different in essence and practice, it’s the Japanese tradition of paying respect to ancestors and loved ones who have passed away.
It won’t appear in red on your yearly calendar because it’s not an official national holiday, but in practice, obon is a summer holiday for everyone and most companies will take a few days off.
August 13 — Mukaebi
Obon begins with the so-called mukaebi practice (welcoming fires), during which people make a small bonfire in front of their houses to guide spirits upon their return back home.
Decorating the deceased’s altar with small memorial tablets, fruits, flowers, and Japanese sweets is also part of the early preparation stage—a practice used to offer late loved ones objects they enjoyed in their lifetime.
While practiced mostly in countryside areas recently, some regions will also prepare horses made of cucumbers and cows made of eggplants with wooden sticks for legs. The symbolism behind it is that the horse will help spirits return home as soon as possible, while the cow will take them back to heaven slowly as soon as the festival is over.
Most Japanese people …continue reading