Today is a celebration of the beginning of the お盆祭り (Bon festival). This is one of the times of the year when people remember their ancestors and offer up a sacrifice of food to them to ease them in their journey in the beyond. Often individuals will travel to their hometowns to clean their ancestor's gravesites and offer the sacrifice. There's also a lively dance called the 盆踊り (bon odori), done as a reminder to be grateful to one's foreparents.
Today I heard this tale. So here's the:
History of the Bon Festival.
The mother of one of Buddha's disciples died. He wanted to investigate where she ended up and since he had some supernatural powers of his own, he first travelled to heaven to look for her. She wasn't there. He went to several other unworldly lands to find her and was unsuccessful. He finally found her in the limbo where greedy people end up. He mustered all his power and tried to release her to heaven but was unsuccessful.
He was confused by this for his mother was a loving and caring parent and wasn't greedy in the least. So he travelled back to his village and asked the elders there why. They told him that though his mother was very loving, she was overly loving to the point that she neglected her friends and community, thinking only of her children. This avarice led her to the greed-limbo. The disciple then implored the people of his village to pray with him for his mother's release and their collective voices granted his wish and she went to heaven.
Here are a few of the items up at the shrine.
木魚 (moku gyo), a wooden gong. Front view.
木魚の棒 (mokugyo no bo), a mallet used to bong the gong.
鐘 (kane), a brass tub-shaped gong.
鐘の鈴 (kane no suzu), a little bell used to toll the big brass tubby gong.
キュウリ馬とナス牛 (kyuri no uma to nasu no ushi), Cucumber horses & eggplant cows.
キュウリ馬と Cucumber horses. スイカ, (suika), watermelon.
餅 (mochi), a pile of rice cakes.
焼香 (shoko), incense bento.
花束 (hana-taba), a bouquet of flowers.
Here's a (poorly done) video of the bon odori.
I said to a friend that for the dance, "They wear Yukata, ne?" He was amused by my pun. (浴衣, yukata = the traditional kimono worn for this dance. よかった, yokatta = a shout of joy. ね, ne = isn't it?)