This weekend is Obon in Okinawa. This Buddhist festival takes place at a different time than in the rest of Japan and is a three-day long celebration where families worship deceased ancestors.
In the days leading up to Obon, families will visit the graves of their ancestors to tidy and decorate them.
Right now, we have Eisa dancers coming up and down all of the streets in our area. They dance, sing, and play their drums in a welcoming ceremony for the spirits.
On the first day of Obon, the family “butsudan” (house shrine/altar) is decorated, and many offerings are placed there. Just before sunset lanterns line pathways to guide the spirits home, and all doors are left open for them to enter. Family members stand in front of their homes to greet the spirits as darkness falls over the island.
The second day is dedicated to visiting with relatives, and apologizing to ancestors for lapses in communication. Many prayers and offerings are given to the spirits.
On the third day, there is a lavish farewell dinner for the spirits. This meal is the highlight of the day, and family members offer prayers and burn incense to the spirits. After the meal, men sing and play a banjo-like instrument called the “samisen”. At sunset, families bid farewell to the spirits of their ancestors for another year. Sometimes people will celebrate with fireworks, which some believe also help to scare the spirits back. Eisa dancers escort the spirits away, starting their music and dancing before sunset and continuing into the early morning hours.