Anime Central isn’t just about Japanese movies and comics. We promote all the cultural aspects of Japan and encourage everyone to learn more than just Japan’s popular culture. You don’t need to go all the way around the world to learn more. There are many things you can do in the local area! This week, our post falls during the Bon Festival, where Buddhists honor their ancestors!
The Bon Festival is a Buddhist observance honoring the spirits of ancestors. A “spirit altar” (shōryōdana) is set up in front of the Butsudan (the individual family’s altar) to welcome the souls of ancestors past. A Buddhist priest is asked to come and read a sutra (Buddhist prayer). Among the traditional preparations for the ancestors’ return include cleaning family graves, preparing a path from the grave to the house, and making straw horses or oxen so the spirits don’t have to walk from grave to home. The welcoming fire (mukaebi) built on the 13th of the month and the send-off fire (okuribi) built on the 15th or 16th are intended to light the path.
Tōrō nagashi is a Japanese ceremony in which participants float paper lanterns (chōchin) down a river; tōrō is traditionally another word for lantern, while nagashi means “cruise, flow”. To mark the end of the Bon Festival, small paper lanterns containing a burning flame are either set afloat to a large body of water, or made as flying lanterns and let go to float away into the night. Their light is intended to guide the way for deceased family members’ spirits. Usually the person who lets the lantern go will write a message on the side. Traditional Japanese beliefs state that humans come from water, so the lanterns represent their bodies returning to water (traditionally the sea).
Tōrō nagashi may be done on other days of the year for other reasons, such as to commemorate those lost in the large scale tragedies (such as the bombing of Hiroshima). In the United States, in the state of Hawaii (which has a large Japanese population), participants float paper lanterns on Memorial Day, remembering those lost (especially during World War II) and they commemorate the end of the war.
The Bon Festival takes place in Japan around the middle of July or August, depending on location and if one follows the Chinese lunar calendar or the Christian Gregorian calendar.
Visit your local Buddhist temple for more information about the religious significance of the Bon Festival. For information to find Buddhist temples and organizations in the Chicagoland area, visit http://www.buddhistcouncilmidwest.org/members.htm.
For more info about the Memorial Day lantern floating in Hawaii and across the US, visit http://www.lanternfloatinghawaii.com/.
May you bring honor and joy to the spirits of your ancestors! How do you celebrate and honor the spirits of your ancestors? Feel free to leave a comment!