Interview with Saya: Celebrating Bon week in Japan
My imagination awaked when my dear friend Saya told me about old Japanese custom, a Bon week. My mind started to see images about river where beautiful little paper lanterns flow and how beautiful japanese wear kimonos. Families gather and children goes to meet their parents and they have a good chance to remember their ancestors. I think Bon week is - mostly beautiful old Buddhist custom, wich shows people's respect to spirits of elderly people. But I couldn't live without a thought that maybe it have also some deeper religional dimension..
How people celebrate Bon week in Japan?
Well, as I said before, Bon week is based on Buddhism belief. So people usually goes to temple and ask the monk to give prayer for ancester or some family invite a monk to give a prayer for the ancesters. But it is pretty hard for the family to have that opportunity, since so many families want to give the prayer and number of the monk are limited, so generally, all gathered family gone to semetary. It is a sort of custom to express their respect and their reminds to the family member who past away. There are also differents style to have Bon-week in each area in all over Japan.
In Hiroshima where is known as the first attacked place by atomic bomb, they make lantern with candle and put them flow on the river on Augst 15th which is the memorial day of end of the WW II and the last day of Bon week. It means people ship the soul back to the heaven. There is also unique custom at my grand-pa's place which is SHIMABARA in Nagasaki prefecture. You might know this city from explosion of activate volcano UNZEN-dake. Anyway, in the city, we burn the fire on Augst 13th which is the first day of the Bon-week to show the soul where their home is. It's called MUKAE-BI(Welcome-fire). And we also burn OKURI-BI(farewell-fire) on 15th. Religist people believe that souls go back to the heaven with this smoke from the fire.
The citizen of Shimabara also make ships for the people who past away in the year for the reason of that the soul won't get lost for the first to the heaven after the first Bon they have. So we make ship with a lot of lantan and ship them away to the sea. Of course we collect the ships later on but it but the ship mean that soul won't get lost because they can go back with other soul to the heaven.
You described Bon week as an spriritual custom, according to Buddhism. But you told me also that it's like family occasion, when families gather and meet each other. Wich one is it nowadays?
A lot of office workers can get a day or two days off during the bon week. So they can go back to their Home-land to spend their time with their family. I am not sure that how many people are spending their time for reminding their ancester but in my family, especially mom's side, my grand-pa devote his time to carry on this custom and I think I would love to past on to my children too. Since I lost my grand-ma when I was really young, I feel really close to her especially the bon week in the year. I see her picture more often and talk about her with my cousins too.
How do you personally feel about Bon week? What feelings it brings up in you?
I really like the style the people of SHIMABARA celebrate their Bon week at there. I don't know much about the bon week in other area but I am sure each of the places have really nice custom of their own. As i said above, since I lost my grand-ma when I was 9, I usually don't remember her much. However, every bon week in year, I see her with me on the picture more often and talk about her memories with my cousins. I think Bon week is really great custom to remember and reconsider who I am and how i was brought up by who. I really want to carry this custom for my life as a Japanese.
What's the future of Bon-week? Does next Millennium Japanese celebrate it too?
It's hard to believe that young people will carry on this custom much. Even my moms age don't have much interest for it. I guess our life is getting less religious. However, for myself, I really would past on this custom to next generation for not forgetting how old age made our country and our happiness is based on their hard time.
See also: kimono