obon has begun! obon is a buddhist festival held august 13-15, when our ancestors come back to visit us from the afterlife. obon is said to have begun in 606AD as a practice in the imperial court. it is only during the edo period that it spread through the rest of japanese society. during obon, everyone travels back to their family’s home to welcome their ancestors and to return their kindnesses. the night of the thirteenth, we light lanterns in front of the family altar or the gate to the house so that our ancestors won’t have trouble finding us.
we set up an additional table in front of the altar to offer food. the food offering varies from region to region. usually we offer seasonal flowers, vegetables, fruits and the ancestors’ favorite foods. but every family’s offering must include an eggplant and a cucumber. we make them into little animals, by inserting little wooden sticks for legs. the eggplant becomes a cow, and the cucumber becomes a horse. the idea is that our ancestors will ride the horse on their way to come see us and the cow when they go back home. so they come to see us as fast as they can and leave as slow as they can.
i was looking for italian eggplants that are similar in size to japanese ones (thin and short), but i couldn’t find any. so i bought chinese eggplants instead. so my cow is very fit and has 8 legs. petit cucumbers were available at superstore. so my horse looks damn cute.
of course, now we’re living in the 21st century. which means we are living in the future. i don’t think our cutting-edge ancestors will be happy just riding horses and cows. so i made a UFO out of a red onion to accomodate our future ancestors from space.
obon is a time for families to get together and have fun. we thank our ancestors for giving us our lives and the world today. we serve the same meals we eat as if we all eat together.
when i was little, i remember my grandma being very happy because my grandpa would come see us and hang out for a while. he died in his sixties (before my older brother was born), and my grandma never remarried. she would say, “i’m happy because he’s here with us.” she would talk to the buddhist tablet as if it were him about how well our family was doing and ask him to protect us. she was happy, so i was happy. i couldn’t see him but i knew he was there with us.
now my grandma has passed away. i’m happy that she will come see me and paul. i hope she can find us in canada. my obon dana (shelf) is missing a lot of buddhist items, but i don’t think she’d mind as long as we are all together.