By Alumni Correspondent John Wells, ’73
Japan’s population is around 127 million people and ranks 10th in the world. With that thought in mind, can you imagine how hectic it might be when people working in the larger cities decide to go back home to be with their families not once a year, but twice? New Year’s is a popular time to return home to see grandma or grandpa or ma and pa and so is the Obon season, which is the season to pay respect to ancestors who have passed away. This very important Buddhist event occurs on July 15 in the Tokyo area and August 15 in northern areas of Japan.
The mass exodus begins around Aug 12. Flights are difficult to find, Trains are jammed packed with many people forced to stand, and roads going north or south often are so crowded
that people literally ‘crawl’ their way home. But home IS important and Japanese people WILL get home to pay their respects.
Obon (お盆?) is a Japanese Buddhist custom that honors the deceased spirits of one’s ancestors.
It has been said that Obon is the time of the year that one’s ancestors return to visit their loved ones. Family members will visit and clean their ancestral graves. It is a reunion for family members and a festival for the community.
Generally a three-day event, Obon is highlighted by the festive Bon Odori dance showing gratitude to the sacrifices of one’s ancestors. Since it is so warm, Japanese can be seeing wearing yukata or happi coats made of light cotton cloth. This traditional summer wear is comfortable to wear and ideal clothing during the warmer days and nights here.
For many years I have truly enjoyed the uniqueness of the Bon Odori dance. I have worn a happi coat and was welcomed by many smiling faces as we danced for hours on end. We formed a circle and moved our hands as we danced in unison to music played in the summer night air. Time seems to stop and Bon Odori dances have given me many wonderful summer time memories. I hope to take part in another Bon Odori this year as well!
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