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  • Writer's pictureKomaba Times

“Obon” : A Holiday Peculiar to Japan


There are many kinds of holidays in the world. Christmas, Easter, Halloween and New Year’s Day to name a few. However, many people outside of Japan are unaware that there is also a holiday in the middle of August. The holiday is called “Obon”(お盆).

Obon is a holiday meant for mourning the deceased. In Japan, it is said that the spirits of the deceased come back to this world during the Obon season. Held from the 13rd to the 16th of August, almost all people in Japan take some days off, despite the fact that Obon is not an official holiday. During this period, people often return to their hometown to visit the graves of their ancestors. As such, it is a very important holiday.

However, in Nagasaki prefecture, which is located in the far west of Japan, a few unique customs can be observed. First, there is an event named “Shoro-nagashi” in Nagasaki, a traditional event held during Obon. In this event, crewless boats with many lanterns called “Shoro-bune” are carried to the river; these boats symbolize the carrying of the spirits of the deceased. You may imagine this to be a very beautiful or solemn view, in fact, it is beautiful but not that solemn. This event is a scene of liveliness with firecrackers accompanying animated chatter and festivities. Some might even consider “Shoro-nagashi” to be too loud and showy to appropriately welcome the dead.

Shoro-nagashi. Image by malzor905 | Flickr.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that the people of Nagasaki celebrate Obon with fireworks, even though this holiday is in remembrance of the deceased. They play with friends or relatives, lighting up hand-held fireworks. Moreover, they play with them around the graves. In general, it is fair to say that such a custom is out of the ordinary, in Japan.

I was born in Nagasaki and visit the area almost every Obon season. Some (or perhaps most) people say that Nagasaki’s customs are imprudent. They also feel that it is too noisy to mourn the deceased. Personally, I’m not sure but I think it seems a little imprudent, as well. However, I also feel that this cheerful mourning does not really pose as a problem; it could even be seen as important. Of course these kind of ceremonies should be held so as not to insult the deceased, but this does not necessarily mean that it cannot be cheerful. Their way to express their respect for the deceased may be a little unique, but what is important is just to respectfully remember the deceased. I do not think this means we have to be too gloomy. I guess we should learn to accept and tolerate such rare customs.

Originally posted on June 1, 2015


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