Traditional Japanese holiday is recognized for three days in Okinawa

Traditional Japanese holiday is recognized for three days in Okinawa

by Dan Collins, U.S. Army Garrison Okinawa Public Affairs
U.S. Army

OKINAWA, Japan -- The traditional Japanese holiday "Obon" was recognized for three days on the island of Okinawa from Aug. 8 to Aug. 10, with participation from the local military communities.

Obon is celebrated throughout Japan, but the holiday customs differ slightly in Okinawa. The most notable difference is the dates the event is held in Okinawa compared to mainland Japan. In Japan, Oban is usually celebrated from Aug. 13 to Aug. 15 each year; however, the Okinawa festival dates are set according to the lunar calendar and changes from year to year.

Japanese culture believes that that the spirits of their departed ancestors come back to their homes to be reunited with their family members during Obon. For this reason, Obon is an important family gathering time, and many people return to their hometowns to pray for the spirits.

The first day of Obon is called "Unke" and is known as the welcoming day. On the evening of the first day of festivities families hang glowing lanterns outside along exterior pathways to help guide the spirits back home.

The second day of Obon is called "Nakanuhi" and is known as the middle day. Many family members will spend their time praying to their ancestors at the family butsudan, or altar, where as many as three meals may be served throughout the day. Family members will often travel from one family member's home to another during the day to pay their respects.

The third day of Obon is called "Ukui" and is known as the final day. "Ukui" serves to escort the spirits back to their world. Families throw lavish farewell dinners, light incenses and offer prayers to their ancestors, asking for protection and forgiveness for any perceived neglect.

Obon festivities in mainland Japan often ends with "Bon Odori" or bon dancing and the floating of lanterns. In Okinawa the festivities conclude with an all night "Eisa" dancing.

Eisa dancing begins after the sun sets and continues into the early morning hours.

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