Obon day 1-2016

Last night’s bondori was fun! It could have been quite different but, I’ve learned something these past five years. I’ve learned that if you want to make friends, enjoy your life here and be a part of what is happening around you then you have to make the effort and you have to step outside of your comfort zone.

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We ate an early dinner at our favorite “cheap” family restaurant Joyful and then we headed to the in-laws house so that MIL could “dress” me. I could probably put on the kimono myself but there is no way I could put the obi on alone.

The yukata obi is different from the formal kimono obi. There are two short videos if you are interested to see what the difference is- Part One  Part Two.

After I was dressed I helped hubby put his obi on which is a really long piece of material that is wrapped tightly around his hip / belly area. It is wide enough so that it holds the yukata closed firmly. My MIL hurried us along and I could not get photos of this whole process, sorry. In the photo below you can see our yukata airing out in the tatami room. My husband’s yukata and obi are on the right. You can see his obi is very long. I’ve got it hanging over the laundry pole. It’s a normal thing to air out the kimono and such in the tatami room after use. I learned these things from my MIL. I suppose every family does things differently but this is how I was taught. Later everything will go to the cleaners and then returned to the kimono closet at my MIL’s home. She has dozens and dozens of yukata, kimono and all the accessories.

My yukata was cute-shades of blue with purple dragonflies. 

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airing out the yukata
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yukata closeup

My obi was a shiny salmon color. The other things you see hanging are the various ties and wraps that go around you before the obi goes on. 

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The best quick shot I could manage as MIL was shooing us along to get going! This is taken in my MIL’s tatami room. You can see part of the family butsudan (altar) in the background.

At any rate, we got dressed and hurried off to the social hall in the village where my husband was born. Every village has such a social hall which is used for various community events. The bondori is held for all those in that village who have passed away that year.

Dozens of shoes, geta and zori were piled in the genkan and we had to step over them gingerly to remove our geta and find a place to stash them where we could find them later!

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A rather blurry shot of the genkan. I was trying not to look like a “tourist” by taking photos and it was a hurried shot. 

I looked into the altar room and there were at least eight photos on the altar. Photos of the deceased are placed on the altar along with offerings of fruits, cans of beer, soda, sake….  (more in my previous post about obon)

Incense smoke and the sound of chanting drifted out of the altar room and mingled with cheerful greetings exchanged between family who had not seen each other for years. Besides New Year’s, Obon is a season of reunions. Family tend to make trips back to the ancestral villages and homes to pay respects, pray and visit loved ones. 

Children in yukata darted about and played happily while the adults first filed into the altar room to pray and then find a zabuton (sitting cushion) and a space at one of the long Japanese tables. Snacks, beer, sake, cold tea and sodas were passed around and the atmosphere became quite festive. Soon the taiko drum started pounding and I could see through the windows that the dancers had begun their circle.

We found a spot on the floor at one of the tables and I could see that hubby was really enjoying catching up with cousins he had not seen in years. We just moved back five years ago so there are several close relatives that live in Tokyo and other far-off places around Japan that he has not had the opportunity to see yet. Last night it seemed like they had all come home. Everyone crowded around him so I moved myself to the end of the table to make room for “all the men”. 

Next to me was my SIL whom I love dearly but, she seemed to be in a miserable mood and just kind of sat sullenly. After about ten minutes I knew I had to make a move. It was either that or be really miserable sitting in “seiza” in my yukata and not moving for two hours while my husband caught up with relatives and my SIL sulked. 

Just a note-hubby does not ignore me at social gatherings but I also don’t expect him to dote on me.I have learned to “carry my own”. 

So…I politely excused myself and headed out to the dance area! I didn’t know anyone out there but I knew that they knew who I was–the foreign wife of Ma-chan (hubby’s nick name). That was good enough to put me at ease. I watched the dancers for a few minutes and it was not long before one of them came over to me, took my hand and gently pulled me into the circle…and there I stayed for two hours! It was so much fun! I don’t know all of the dances but all the women pitched in and called out moves …so that I could learn. I took a short clip of them before I joined them. My hubby is the guy who is smoking. He followed me out for a few minutes and then went back in when I started dancing. It makes him relaxed and at ease knowing I manage to fit myself in to situations and find my place.

It wasn’t always like that though. I have had my share of sitting and sulking in years past. Funny though, as I age and become more sure of my purpose in life (heavy stuff-I know) I have more confidence in just getting out there, making friends and joining the group. Turns out I stayed out in the dance circle for two hours! Hubby and FIL spent some time sitting on chairs and watching us dance. Many others had joined the circle later on.

The program was: dance several songs, take a “drink and wipe yourself down with a towel break” and then dance again! It was around 98 degrees outside and everyone was completely dripping in sweat!

The people that are all wearing the same yukata are part of the dance group that performs at these kind of events for this village.  There are many such groups all over Japan in every village. 

Actually I’m thinking of joining this group.

Earlier, as we were leaving MIL’s house there was a similar group out in the road that was performing the obon dances for a family in my MIL’s village. I shot a quickie as we were getting into the car.

We had such a great time last night. I think it was really the first obon where we had so much fun with family.

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Our “selfie”. The yellow lighting made my totally silver/white hair look blonde again….ha.

Tonight we have another bondori to attend however… we have decided to wear western clothing. MIL is tired and I don’t want to trouble her to dress me. I really need to learn how to dress myself….don’t I? I came away from last night inspired and encouraged because while I do need my husband’s help for many things here I also want and need my own “life”. I need and want to make friends on my own, step out on my own and be a part of the community without him having to set it up. Actually, I’ve done that in so many ways already…but it’s always inspiring and encouraging when I do it again…! 

Funny thing is -I’ve always considered myself an introvert….perhaps I was wrong about that.

OK…time for a NAP so I can recharge for tonight’s dancing!

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4 thoughts on “Obon day 1-2016

  1. What a great idea. Getting together for a party a year later to honor a relatives passing. I’m so glad you were able to participate. That 98′ would have blown it for me.

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    1. Well, it’s not really a party. It’s a Buddhist ritual. Hatsubon is the first Obon for someone that has just died- could be a day, week , several months ago… Doesn’t really matter. It’s basically just the first Obon since the person’s passing. Throughout the year there are other memorials that take place and at these times the priest comes to the home to chant at the family altar. Not all of the family is present for these prayer times. I’m not sure what they are all called though. I know Obon is the ” big” one- kind of like All Souls Day in the Catholic religion. The whole event at Obon has spiritual significance although… Just like in every faith there are those who are more devout than others. I think some just come for the free beer and sake. 😉

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  2. Well a few comments. But first what a great photo of you and Nak…I really like your hair style! Secondly, the one time I felt most accepted or part of Japanese life was at a festival in Kyoto where every one was dancing in the streets. There was no you or I but a sense of belonging to the group. Of sharing the joy.as the drums beat and the singing, chanting and shouting was voiced by all. You know about me and my history with Japan. So your dancing during the Obon is really something I can relate to. Good effort on your part and congratulations on stepping to the “stage.” I can still hear the verses of the dance and recall many years of Obon. I never had the courage to join except that one time in Kyoto and I lost my sense of “self.” Pure joy. I belonged at last.. That festival was for the wishes of good fortune for prosperty of Kyoto. I think it worked! Strange how Japan offers a chance to be a special individual called a gaijin and yet a chance also to be part of the whole, the loss of “self.” Hard to handle sometimes but great for building character…. I guess. Caught between 2 cultures.

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