Okinawa celebrates Obon

Okinawa celebrates Obon

by Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis, 18th Wing Public Affairs
Kadena Air Base

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan  -- Obon, an annual Buddhist holiday dating back more than 500 years, where families come together and reunite with the spirits of their ancestors will be taking place on Okinawa Aug. 26-28.

As with most holidays, traffic will be heavy around the island do to families visiting each other and celebrating Obon.

During Obon, young Okinawans line the streets and perform the traditional Eisa dance. Eisa is performed by 20-30 young men and women from the community and includes singing, chanting, and drumming by the dancers as well as by folk songs played on the sanshin.

Leading up to Obon, family members gather to clean the areas around family tombs, to signify to their ancestors that they will soon be able to spend time with them.

"I will be going to buy gifts and stopping at each of my relative's house to drop off the gifts," said Yu Uehara, Kadena Language Institute student. "Then on the final day all family will gather at one house."

"Unkeh," the first day of Obon, families offer fruit, tea, water, sake and flowers on a "butsudan", or alter, for the spirits of their ancestors. Okinawans usually light the spirits' way with candles or lanterns in front of their house and greet them with gifts.

Families then have a meal of "jushi," similar to porridge, and offer it to the spirits.

The second day of Obon is called "nakabi." This is when families offer their ancestors three meals, and spend the day with family and friends. They pray for forgiveness for not communicating in so long and offer gifts.

"Ukui" is the final day and the highlight of the celebration. Families cook a special goodbye dinner for their ancestors and place it in front of the butsudan in a special box known as "jyubako." Families also make "minnuku," a special meal of grass or food scraps made for any bad or wandering spirits their ancestors may encounter on the way back to their tomb.

"My favorite part of Obon is having conversations with the kids and telling them about how their ancestors were and the stories about them," said Hideko Kinjo, a short order cook at Platters in the Schilling Community Center.

Just as midnight rolls around, families bid farewell to the spirits and place the jyubako and minnuku on the ground by the gate of their homes. They then pray for the spirits to return safely to their resting place and come back to visit again next year.

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