As you might think that Japanese people love festivals in summer. One of the three biggest festivals in Japan, The Gion Festival took the whole month of July is now over then its energy and summer heat is passed down to Obon. The Buddhist festival of Obon is a major summertime event. Before Obon Week, Kyoto is a little bit quiet, but a good time to stop by, listen to cicadas singing, appreciate the wisdom of our forefathers like wind-bell (Edo Furin) and walk along the Kamo river, popular walking spots, seeing a beautiful sunset.Glass Wind Bell Shape-Like Gourd "Firework"
The Obon week,the middle of August is one of Japan’s three major holiday seasons and also means one of the busiest times of the year for traveling. It is not impossible to find seats but the worst thing comes that trains are operated at up to 200% of capacity and 30 kilometer-long traffic jams on a highway during the week.
Some of the traditional Obon festival events are religious, others are like neighborhood parties. People visit the graveyard to clean the family grave and place candles, incense, flowers, and some offerings. It is believed that during Obon, our ancestor’s spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.
Among major Obon festival traditions in Japan is the Bon-Odori (Bon dance). This is a fun Bon festival event, ranging in size from a small gathering organized by a community to a huge tourist draw. Bon-Odori dances are usually held in the evening when it is cool. The dancing part will center around a grandstand decorated with streamers and lanterns. Many dances feature Taiko, the large Japanese drum, and accompanying dancers wearing yukata.Yukata Women's Cotton "Peony and Chrysanthemum"
Shoryo-Uma(精霊馬) is a vehicle decorated during the Bon Festival to welcome and send off ancestors. They are made mainly from summer vegetables, cucumbers, and eggplants. The shape of cucumbers represents a horse and the shape of eggplants does a cow. What it means is that in order to let ancestors return home slowly with a sense of regret, we use eggplants as cows to send our ancestors home. The horses are the opposite of cows, quickly return to this world to stay with us longer.
Do we have a similar festival around the world?
Popularized globally by Pixar movie is called “Coco” or James Bond movie “Spectre”. “The Day of the Dead” (Dia De Murtos in Spanish) is one of the most important celebrations in Mexico. It “emphasizes remembrance of past lives and expresses celebration of the continuity of life”. In Philippines, people visits the graves of the dead, bringing flowers and lighting candles. In Brazil, there is Dia de Finados, the Brazilian iteration of the Day of the Dead could be similar event with our Obon.
( Top)Mt.Dimonji, view from Kamo River
(Bottom) City of Kyoto, view from Mt. Daimonji (Elevation: 466meter)
It is arguably one of the most famous Obon festival, the Gozan no Okuribi bonfires in Japan. Kyoto boasts the most visually impressive spectacle of Obon: the lighting of five mountain bonfires at 8pm on August 16th.
The well-known (大), “BIG” character made up with 80meter width, and 160meters long is lit one by one. The actual bonfire base looks like the picture in above and Daimonji has total 75 of bases. Three of the bonfire are lit in the form of Kanji (大・妙・法), while the other two are shape of boat(船形) and shirine gate（鳥居形). This year will mark the first time that the event has not been scale down or canceled since 2019.
We hope you enjoyed our blog! It feels like our summer is becoming hotter and hotter every day. Understanding of our own cultures for us also means what gift our ancestors left for us. In our products, techniques are passed down through generations of artisans. We tend to introduce summer items; however we have not forgotten our valued customer in southern hemisphere!! What great things about Kyoto Handicraft Center are that we are offering varieties of crafted products. Please take a look our website and explore more!!