On Saturday night, Naoto, Karen and I went to the Midwest Buddhist Temple to experience the Obon Festival. Obon is a Buddhist tradition of honoring and celebrating the dead. According to Naoto, it is the “period of time we believe the spirit of the dead come home.” In Japan, people return home to clean and pray at the graves of their ancestors.
The festival includes folk dances that celebrate and welcome the spirits. Each region in Japan has its own style of dance and music. The dances are repetitive…like line dancing (for lack of a better example) and the dancers circle around a stage where a drummer pounds a giant drum. Some dances include props like fans, towels or wooden clackers and everyone participates to welcome back the dead.
Unfortunately for us, the rain forced the Obon inside so we weren’t able to experience the beautiful dances under the light of the lanterns. Instead we met inside the temple…slightly less scenic but the dances and the music were still a great experience.
The Obon announcer shared the regions in Japan where each dance originated and it was interesting to learn a little bit about how the culture of the region influenced each dance. The Midwest Buddhist Temple offers Obon lessons leading up to the festival so members can learn all of the different dances. I didn’t know this, so we were observers…next year I would like to go for at least one lesson so we can participate. It felt a little weird to just watch, as most people–men, women, young and old–were dancing throughout the night. Some people, especially the older ladies, were very skilled at the dances, and other people were a little bit rusty, but it didn’t matter…only that you were dancing a celebrating your loved ones. It all felt really laid back and festive…a nice way to connect with each other and with those who have passed.