This year I went with another ALT to one of her teacher's houses for the last day of Obon. This wasn't my first experience with Obon as I had the opportunity to attend Angama, which is specific to Ishigaki Island only, when I first arrived to Japan in 2010.
|Offerings to the dead|
|Burning the paper money as an offering|
|Food, money, water, tea and sake for the long journey back to the other world|
For those who don't know, Obon is a three day holiday that is celebrated on in mainland Japan and Okinawa, but the Okinawans celebrate Obon at the end of August-beginning of September as opposed to mid-summer. The first day of Obon, families gather together to welcome the ancestors home. The dead travel via the ocean, so it's really important not to swim in the ocean several days before, during and a few days after Obon. The last day of Obon brings the family together again, and this usually includes extended family members, where they gather at the eldest son's house to have dinner together and bid the ancestors goodbye. The ritual includes prayers and the burning of paper that symbolizes money in the afterlife, as well as offerings of food, alcohol, tea and water. After the incense is burned and a final prayer is said, the bowl where the money and the food was laid is taken out of the house and left at the entrance to the street, where it will sit overnight. This is the way Okinawans say goodbye to their ancestors.
While in graduate school, I wrote on the use of altars and rituals, especially those used during the Mexican celebration of the Days of the Dead (they too have a 3 day process of reconnecting to their ancestors though the days are in a different month). I've been thinking about how we need to feel connected to others, and how these particular rituals keep us connected to our past, even if the past reaches much further back than what (or who) we know. Without these connections, we feel adrift in a life that is excessively materialistic and stressful.
Maybe I should set up an altar in my house somewhere...