At the edge of the horizon

At the edge of the horizon
At the edge of Japan

Monday, August 19, 2013

Obon in Okinawa 2013 (part 1)

Today marked the beginning of another Obon in Okinawa.  This will be the 4th year I've experienced Obon.  I remember the first Obon I experienced in Ishigaki, which was so different from any of the Obon celebrations I've seen since.  The Yaeyama islands celebrate Obon differently than Okinawa Island does, and they have a particular ritual that I was able to participate in on the third night of Obon.  The community centers are paid money by families who have lost relatives recently.  These community centers then create a dance and comedy performance that represents the spirits of the dead coming back to visit the houses.  The houses are opened up to the public and anyone in the town can go to watch the performance.  Everyone then followed the entire procession from house to house.  Lots of music, dance, drinking and laughter.  It was simultaneously a somber and joyous occasion.  The second year I lived here, I had just moved to Okinawa and wasn't invited to celebrate Obon and didn't notice any festivities in Naha.  Last year, I had a chance to visit the house of an English teacher who worked with a friend of mine.  We went to Okinawa City to attend the final night of Obon and I wrote about this here.  This year, one of my co-workers invited me to celebrate Obon with her and her family and I am very excited to attend.  It's not everyday that you get invited into an Okinawan house, especially on a special occasion like Obon.  I'll update you on later this week about this experience!

It's interesting to note that mainland Japan already celebrated Obon as of last week.  They follow the western calendar and celebrate it every year from August 13-15.  The Okinawans use the lunar calendar, an older calendar system that the Chinese still use.  Since they follow the lunar calendar, the dates of Obon change each year.  Last year, it was at the very end of August and this year it's a little bit earlier.

Since this is the time of year when the stores all change their bland muzak to traditional Okinawan folk songs to get everyone in the mood to celebrate their ancestors' return, I wanted to link one of my favorite songs sung in Okinawan language for you to listen to.  This song is called ちんさぐぬ花 (Tinsagu nu hana).  The meaning of the song is based on the idea that the lessons our parents teach us when we're young are imprinted on our hearts throughout our lives.


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