The Bon Festivl, or “Obon” (pronounce “oh-BONE”) as it is popularly called in Japan, is a family and community observance that takes place over a three-day period. Next to the New Year, Obon is the most important event of the Japanese ritual calendar-a time when the soul or spirits of deceased members of households are thought to return for a brief visit to the world of the living. Family members will return home solemn occasions, Obon strives to honor the ancestors and thank them for their contributions toward the quality of life enjoyed by the living.
Obon is observed on the 13th, 14th, and 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Today some areas of Japan using the western calendar celebrate the holiday from August 13th through 15th.
The event begins with visits to the family grave. First, family members tidy up the gravesite. They then replenish offerings left in front of the stone, which usually include springs of umbrella pine (koya-maki) and the broad-leaf evergreen (sakaki), glutinous rice cake (mocha), and fruit. As night falls, lighted paper lanterns are placed at each gravesite and the air becomes thick with the smoke of burning incense.
At home, the family builds a welcoming fire (mukae-bi) of hemp stalks in front of the house. In front of the “butsudan”, the household altar where mortuary tables (ihai) are kept, the family sets out additional offerings, including simple animal figures made from cucumber and eggplant that represent the means by which the ancestors make their journey.
On the second night of Obon, families gather in an open space in the village or town to perform Bon odori, folk dancing intended for the entertainment of the visiting spirits. Bon dancing evolved from a ritual of Buddhist chants and folk dance called “odori nembutsu.”
Participants in Bon dancing-men, women, and children-move in circles around a temporary platform (yagura) upon which the accompanying drummers and flutists stand. Dancing may also take the form of a processional through the city streets. The spectacle may continue well into the night under the light of paper lanterns. In large communities, a lively street fair with games amusements, food, and shopping stalls contribute to the festivities.
The ancestors take their leave and return to the other world on the third and last night of Obon. Farewell fires (okuribi) are lit illuminating the way for the departing spirits. In many communities, celebrants float simple paper lanterns (toronagashi) on bodies of water. Families who have experienced deaths in the past year may float elaborately decorated boats (shoryobune) to transport the recently deceased away from their first Bon festival.
The Star Festival
Tanabata, or the Star Festival, is held on the evening of July 7. The
festival traces its origins to a legend that the Cowherd Star (Altair) and
Weaver Star (Vega), lovers separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet
just once a year--on the seventh day of the seventh month.
Children and adults write their wishes on narrow strips of colored paper, known as tanzaku, and hang them, along with other paper ornaments, on bamboo branches placed in the backyards or entrances of their homes. They then pray hard that their wishes will come true.
The Tanabata festival is thought to have started in China. It was transmitted to Japan during the feudal period and combined with traditional local customs to become an official event at the Imperial Court. Commoners soon began observing this festival, with different localities developing their own distinctive celebration.
In Tokyo, most people now decorate bamboo branches with just the narrow
strips of paper that carry their wishes. At some elementary schools,
pupils attach their wishes to a huge bamboo branch, and others put on
skits about the legend of the Cowherd and Weaver Stars.
Some areas of Japan celebrate Tanabata a month later, on August 7, since
this is closer to the seventh day of the seventh month on the traditional
lunar calendar. Such communities frequently perform the services for Bon,
a period in mid-August when deceased relatives are thought to return,
together with the ceremonies for Tanabata.
As Tanabata approaches, decorated bamboo branches can be seen all around the neighborhood, signaling that summer has finally arrived and that summer vacation is just around the corner.
Saba Saba literally translated from Swahili means "Seven Seven" or July 7. Saba Saba is a national holiday in Tanzania and is also known as "Worker's Day," "Industry's Day," or "Peasant's Day".
On July 7, 1954, the Tanzanian political party, TANU, the Tanganyika African National Union was founded by Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Julius Kambarage Nyerere was the first president of Tanzania from 1962 to 1985 following colonial rule. TANU was the main political party through 1977 when it merged with ASP (Afro-Shirazi Party) in Zanzibar to form the current Revolutionary State Party or Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).
Saba Saba is also the day of the International Trade Fair at the Mwalimu JK Nyerere Fair Grounds near Dar-es-Salaam where farmers show the products and produce to international business. Originally, this fair was held to promote Tanzanian exports and Tanzania would celebrate their agricultural accomplishments for the previous year. The first fair was held in 1963.
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens has been celebrating a spring festival since 1979. The word “Hatsume” is Japanese and it means “first bud of the year” and was therefore chosen for the name of the spring festival. Florida’s climate is quite different from Japan’s and much warmer than Japanese spring weather. Throughout Japan, Japanese enjoy the early spring flowering of cherry trees, Sakura, and people get together and have picnics under them. In the U.S., the Japanese Sakura Fair in Washington D.C. becomes a symbol of spring. Likewise, the Hatsume Fair is symbol of Morikami’s spring. The Hatsume Fair event is usually celebrated over a February or March weekend when Florida’s trees and shrubs are starting to bear new shoots and flowers.
The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens celebrates the Hatsume over the entire museum and its garden grounds. It is largest and only two days festival of the other Morikami festivals; New Year and Obon. Japanese drums and other Japanese related arts performances and demonstrations are scheduled and many foods and Japanese related vendors will open their “shops”. The Museum gallery and Japanese gardens are also open for viewing. The Hatsume fair is an enriching showcase for living Japanese culture.