My Obon in Japan

Obon is a time in Japan where Japanese people return home (as in parents home or main family house) and pay their respects to the deceased loved ones. Where I live in Kazo, Saitama, shops or semi big grocery stores would close one or two days for their employees to celebrate obon with their family. I did not realise how big or important the occasion was to Japanese people as I was not fully aware of it until one of the teachers, G S, mentioned it.

Obon is actually very similar to a Chinese traditional date called “Ching Ming”, which happens once a year during the seventh month of the luna calendar.  Like Obon, Ching Ming is a time for families to go back to their home towns and pay respects to their ancestors or lost ones.

Obon, this year, happened during mid August.  On August 13th, a Thursday night of the Obon period, my colleague Alex and I were invited to one of our Japanese Teachers for English (JTEs) home to experience Obon with her family. She was very humble about it saying that it is nothing big and it will be a basic dinner. At 4:15pm, T S came to the school to pick us up and we arrived at her family home shortly. I had prepared a gift from her and her family (as it was the first time meeting her mother and sister, Tomoko).  TS’s house was a 150 year old traditional house.  It was an amazing experience to step into a house that had so much history.

When we arrived, before settle ourselves in the guest area, both A and I paid our respects to TS’s father.  Sadly, TS’s father passed away earlier in the year so technically this year, for her family, it is a Shin-Obon.  Literally in English, it can be understood as a New Obon as someone has recently passed away in the family.  After paying our respects, we sat in the guest lounge area and within moments, other guest arrived.  To our surprise, about 9 other guest arrived.  A and I are by no means fluent in Japanese so we initially stays silent for a while as we did not know how to engaged.  But thankfully, one member of the new guest tried to chat to us in English and this broke the ice.  We all started to talk in either broken English or broken Japanese.  It was a delightful experience.

Later in the evening, we had a delicious home cook meal.  We ate udon, homemade chicken karaage (with some ginger), tempura prawns, tempura vegetables and bitter melon tofu. My least favorite was the bitter melon tofu.  I asked T S to teach me how to make karaage as I am a big fan of Japanese Karaage.

It was definitely a great evening spending out with my colleagues and experiencing a special tradition with my JTE.  We even talked a little about teaching elementary students with TS’s sister, as she is a elementary school teacher, the sounds of animals.  Did you know that in Japan, the sound a dog makes is “wan wan” while in western countries, the sound would be “woof woof”.  Other animals like cats, horse and cow also have other sounds.  Interesting eh?

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