For over 500 years, Japanese tradition has celebrated the annual Buddhist vacation of Obon (お盆). In the course of the historically three-day occasion, individuals honor their ancestors, whose spirits are believed to return to this world every year to go to their dwelling family members.

Whereas modern-day celebrations of Obon have change into synonymous with dancing, household reunions and consumption of cultural meals, Obon has a protracted historic and non secular significance to Japan. Believed to have originated in India after which later unfold all through Asia, Obon festivities mirror the story of a disciple of Buddha. Within the authentic story, the disciple makes use of supernatural powers to contact the spirit of his deceased mom. When he finds her within the “Realm of Hungry Ghosts,” the disciple seeks Buddha’s assist to save lots of her from a destiny of insatiable starvation. Via Buddha’s instruction, the disciple ready choices of meals and lanterns for touring Buddhist monks. Upon doing so, his mom’s spirit was freed.

Historically, Japanese individuals dangle lanterns in entrance of their homes to information their ancestors’ spirits, carry out Bon Odori (Japanese people dances), take heed to taiko (the artwork of Japanese drumming), go to and clear their ancestors’ graves and make meals choices at their dwelling altars. On the finish of the three-day celebration, floating lanterns are launched into our bodies of water to information the spirits again to the realm of the deceased.

Based on the lunar calendar, Obon roughly corresponds with the center of August. Subsequently, in Japan, Obon is principally noticed from August 13-16 and is taken into account certainly one of Japan’s three main vacation seasons alongside Golden Week and New Yr’s. Nonetheless, in keeping with the photo voltaic calendar, Obon falls a month earlier, which means that in different celebrating international locations like the USA, Obon is usually noticed in the course of the center of July. Moreover, in China and Vietnam, the same celebration takes place by the title of the Hungry Ghost Competition. Obon festivals additionally happen in Malaysia and Korea, although additionally by totally different names.

This 12 months, I attended one of many largest Obon celebrations within the U.S.: the 2023 West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple Annual Summer time Obon Competition. Halted after the pandemic, the 2023 Obon was the primary of its form in 4 years. Enthusiastically welcomed again by the Japanese-American neighborhood of Los Angeles, this 12 months’s Obon was a vigorous expertise.

The occasion effortlessly synthesized conventional parts of Obon with extra up to date parts that celebrated the local people. For instance, I attended a tea ceremony demonstration, during which the ceremony grasp adopted the Zen Buddhist custom of rigorously getting ready cups of matcha in keeping with longstanding choreography. Together with the tea, we have been offered with a small mochi confection topped with a candy gelatin layer and fish decal. Personally, I really like the chewy, starchy and subtly candy taste of mochi. Unsweetened matcha, however … not for me.

After the tea ceremony, I toured the panel of cubicles manned by totally different fundraising neighborhood teams. There was all kinds: ring toss, a fishbowl-throwing sport with reside goldfish as prizes, muffin pan Moneyball (a type of horizontal pachinko), seasonal fruit and veggies and occasion merchandise. As well as, the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple kitchen cooked up some Japanese favorites, together with gyoza, curry rice, chili scorching canine rice (regardless of sounding comparatively unappetizing, my boyfriend claims this can be a beloved Japanese-American staple), onigiri, shaved ice and teriyaki hen bowls. The gyoza, full of floor pork, seasonings and chopped cabbage, was steamed to perfection. A aspect of pickled cabbage additionally offered a pointy zing to pleasantly distinction with the umami gyoza filling. I additionally tried the chili scorching canine rice, which, whereas easy, introduced a posh taste profile that transcended cultural borders. The mixture of chili, which is alleged to have Texan-Mexican origins, and scorching canine, a distinctly American delicacies, served at a Japanese competition threw my tastebuds for a loop in a surprisingly agreeable means.

The very best a part of the night time (which might have been bingo, had I really received something and never wasted $10 on playing cards) was the Bon Odori. Within the out of doors courtyard, giant, concentric circles marked in chalk indicated lanes during which to bop. All individuals lined up in a lane, the taiko drums began and the dancing proceeded ahead slowly in a counterclockwise movement. Having no prior observe with Japanese people dancing, the Bon Odori circle was daunting at first. Nonetheless, I used to be inspired to easily bounce in and mimic the particular person in entrance of me. The actions have been easy and repeated continuously, making Bon Odori actions straightforward to choose up and excellent for all age teams. It was rhythmic, soothing and extremely pleasing.

Anybody who needs to take part in an upcoming Obon ceremony can Google their native Buddhist temple’s occasion listing. For UC Santa Barbara college students, the Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara is internet hosting Obon on August 12. San Luis Obispo (SLO) additionally gives an Obon celebration on the SLO Buddhist Church on August 5. I extremely advocate attending for anybody all for Japanese meals and tradition!

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