***This post is super delayed because I wanted to take photos of the beautiful graveyards around the island; however, I haven't had the chance to do so yet so please enjoy these unrelated but still pretty photos from my recent trip to Nagasaki City instead.***
Obon... ohbonvoyage....obon... eh? eh?
Okay moving on (plz keep reading despite terrible puns.. or because of them). As alluded to in the post below, this past weekend (OKAY maybe more like two... or three weekends ago) celebrated Obon here in Japan. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist tradition to honour one's ancestors and be with family. Similarly to Day of the Dead in Mexico, which people may be more familar with, during Obon it is said that the spirits of ancestors passed on return to earth to visit family for this three day period. It's not really a sad occasion, but more a time to come together in celebration of family and history. It often is a time for Japanese people to return to their homes and on Goto that meant a very busy time on the island. Well, busy for Goto... so not really that busy at all. Many young people have moved away from Goto and the population has decreased rapidly in the last decade or so, but a lot returned this weekend to be with their families.
Obon traditions vary across Japan (and I'm sure among families), but on Goto and in Nagasaki Prefecture, families make food and gather at grave sites each day to have a picnic, clean the graves, leave flowers, etc. Families have barbecues and light lanterns around the tombs of their ancestors making for a very beautiful sight in the evenings. All of this culminates in (my favourite part): fireworks ( 花火ーはなびーhanabi ）! Over the three days, around dusk fireworks could be heard echoing across the city, reaching a final crescendo on the third night. I have heard this fiery tradition is quite unique to this region of Japan, but it is a send off until next year to light the way as the spirits return to the sky. Like waving goodbye with a sparkly fire-y hand, or something.
This week, the students return to school after summer holidays and classes begin again... sort of. On September 4th it is the schoolwide Sports Day event. Cool, sports day, I did that in school I know wassup with that-- relay races and whatnot. WRONG. Japanese Sports Day is like the Russian Olympic team of sports days (ie. it's on steroids) and the next few weeks leading up to the festival are mostly spent practicing and preparing for said festival. Currently, classes are cancelled and I spend my days watching students practice team dances, traditional dances, make elaborate team banners and T-shirts, and practice events. Everyone asks me if we have something similar in Canada and they always seem a little disappointed when I say no. Either that or they tell me "Japan is crazy", which I have actually heard quite a bit since arriving here and can confirm that while this may be true in some regards, the craziness only adds to the appeal.