Friday the Thirteenth, 8/13/2010 9:43 PM
I don’t know if it’s the beer talking, but the Obon festival was actually pretty fun! Obon is a festival that celebrates one’s deceased ancestors in Japan. It is from August 13 until August 16. The dates might differ every year, but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s always over a weekend from Friday to Monday? Anyway, today, my supervisor invited me to come to the Buddhist Temple in town an hour after work to meet him and join him in the event. I am very grateful that he had offered me that opportunity.
When I got to the temple, my supervisor (whom I will now refer to as Supes) and his wife were already on the grounds. When I got there, I greeted them with a bow and a “konnichi wa.” The first thing I noticed were the hanging paper lamps along the path that lead to the temple from the street. The second thing I noticed was the smell of burning incense. Supes was holding a bundle, still yet to be lit. He and his wife led be to the torii gate, where there stood an area to light the incense. Families were talking and walking by one another, even under the gate. One of Supes’wife’s friends greeted her and then asked if I was their son (haha). Their son and daughter are actually around my age, so it was an honest mistake. Supes and his wife led me behind the temple where their family’s grave was, and they proceeded to show me the proper procedure for praying and leaving the incense on the grave. They even let me leave some incense and pay my respects! I was grateful. And as odd as it sounds, I really wanted to take a picture of the temple; the graves were masterly handcrafted, and the temple itself is a beautiful building. But of course, to maintain respectfulness, I refrained from even asking.
After the short ceremony, their son showed up, and I was able to go through introductions in both English in Japanese. We walked under the torii gate again, but this time, a huge crowd of people were lined up in six lines. Everyone was lining up to walk up to the head monk and pay more respects to the temple. Again, I was given the privilege to participate in this endeavor. When it was my turn, I bowed with my hands together, grabbed some of the…burnable stuff (I don’t really know what it’s called; maybe it’s powdered incense?)…and I held it up to my head, put it in the fire, and bowed the same way again. Then, we went straight to the line for free food.
Actually, the food wasn’t quite free, as they were asked to give 3000 Yen (about $35) for food and drinks earlier. Supes and his wife had it strategically planned: he had me follow him to grab three beers (their son had just left, so he wasn’t going to dine with us), and his wife went off to the food line. When we sat down, there was already a bowl of noodles and some amazingly sweet corn on the cob waiting for me. I believe the beer was Asahi brand, as that is what the cup was. And I don’t know if it’s because of all the Asahi I had at orientation, but this beer was actually pretty good! And of course, with Japanese custom, they gave me a full glass before I even finished my first (usually they fill up your glass before it gets dry, but at this event, we could only grab cups of beer rather than pour it ourselves; afterall, it was draught). There was another bowl of food; this time, it was a bowl of seafood soup, which contained a mixed fish patty, various vegetables, seaweed, and a hardboiled egg. And I also had the pleasure of meeting a few of my fifth grade students, who were sitting next to us! Their English was surprisingly good; I was pleased.
Dinner was surprisingly enjoyable. It consisted mostly of Supes, his wife, and I chitchatting over beers, but it was still a good time. There was also a bonfire of hay that was lit in a central area between tents, near where everyone was lined up. Upon Supes’ urging, I took a few pictures of it, and even recorded some video during dinner. When we were done eating, they told me to grab the last cup of beer and take it home, along with the last bowl of noodles. I was concerned, because it is illegal to walk around in the US holding an open alcoholic beverage. Not a problem here, though! So, I did as they asked; we parted ways, and I walked back to my neighborhood in the dark, holding a cup of beer and a bowl (more like an uncovered plastic Tupperware container) of noodles.
So there you have it! Obon!
Word of the day: お寺 「おてら」 “otera,” which means “temple.” The word is actually just 寺 「てら」 “tera,” but the 「お」 “o” is added for respect. The same is done with works like “sake” and “shoyu,” which are sure to be words of the day later. :-)