盆【The Bon Festival】

The Bon Festival is a Buddhist ceremony where people honor the souls of their deceased ancestors. It is also called urabon and obon in Japanese. The Bon Festival is among the most important traditional events of the year in Japan. It was originally held during the period from the 13th day to the 15th day of the 7th month according to the lunar calendar. Today, however, the Bon period generally refers to the four days from August 13th to 16th.

盆は先祖の霊を供養する仏教行事の一つで、「盂蘭盆(うらぼん)」または「お盆」とも言います。お盆は、日本人にとって一年で最も大切な伝統行事です。かつては旧暦の7月13日から15日にかけて行われていましたが、今日では一般に8月13日から16日にかけて行われます。

In the old days people believed that the souls of their deceased ancestors and family members returned to their homes during the Bon period. Before the Bon period, people clean the graves of their ancestors and family members. People also clean the pathways from the graves to their homes to welcome the returning souls. They prepare straw horses or oxen, which are supposed to carry the returning souls. It is customary to make fires to welcome the returning souls on the first day of the Bon period, August 13th. Fires light up the pathways from the graves to the homes and lead the returning souls to their homes. This custom is called mukaebi in Japanese. Each family prepares a special altar during the Bon period. This special altar is called a shoryodana in Japanese. People set up a shoryodana to welcome and comfort the souls of their ancestors. Then they put it away when the Bon period is over. They place various offerings including vegetables, fruit, and rice on the shoryodana. They also visit their family graves and place flowers, burning candles, and incense sticks, senko, on the graves. There are many families that ask Buddhist priests to come and read sutras. After spending time with the souls that have returned home, people are responsible for bidding the souls farewell on August 16th when the souls go back to the Land of Spirits. They make fires again on the evening of the 16th to send the souls off. This custom is called okuribi in Japanese.

昔の人々は、お盆には先祖の霊や亡くなった家族の魂が家族のもとに帰ってくると信じていました。お盆の前には、先祖の霊を家に迎え入れるためにお墓を掃除し、お墓から家までの道もきれいにします。そして藁(わら)で作った馬や牛を乗り物として用意します。お盆の初日の8月13日には、先祖の霊を迎える焚き火をします。この焚き火は「迎え火」と呼ばれ、お墓から家までの道を照らし、先祖の霊を導くためのものです。お盆の期間、それぞれの家庭では霊をまつるための精霊棚(しょうりょうだな)を仏壇の前に設けます。精霊棚には野菜・果物・ご飯などを供えます。お墓には花を供え、ろうそくに火を灯し、線香を焚きます。多くの家庭では、霊を供養するために僧侶を家に迎え、お経をあげてもらいます。8月16日になると、招いた祖先を霊魂の世界に見送るために火を焚きます。この火は「送り火」と呼ばれます。

The custom of making fires, mukaebi and okuribi, during the Bon period developed into large-scale fire festivals in many regions in Japan. The Kanto Festival in Akita Prefecture and the send-off fires in the Daimonji Mountains in Kyoto are particularly well-known. In addition to these fire festivals, events called toro-nagashi take place in many parts of Japan at the end of the Bon period. People release thousands of lanterns in the rivers, seas, and ocean. The lanterns are made of paper and bamboo, and each one has a burning candle in it. These lanterns, which are called toro in Japanese, represent the souls on their return journey to the Land of Spirits. Therefore, this event is also called shoryo-nagashi, the word shoryo means the souls of the dead people. People in some regions release straw or little wooden boats with a burning candle in each one instead of lanterns. Toro-nagashi are held as memorial services for drowned people and war dead in some places in Japan. Numerous lights twinkling on the water make these occasions solemn, beautiful, and pure while giving poetic charm to summer.

迎え火や送り火の習慣は、日本の各地で火祭りの行事に発展し、盛大に行われてきました。秋田の竿灯(かんとう)、京都の大文字五山の送り火は特に有名です。これらの火祭り以外にも、各地で灯篭流し(とうろうながし)が行われます。灯篭流しは精霊流しとも言われ、紙と竹で作った灯篭の中にろうそくを灯し、川や海に流します。藁や板で作った小さな舟に供え物やろうそくを立てて流すところもあります。水死者や戦没者を慰霊するために灯篭流しを行うところもあります。無数の明かりが水面に浮かび上がる光景は、荘厳で美しく、神聖で、夏の風物詩の一つとなっています。

Festivals that feature Japanese folk dances take place in communities throughout Japan during Bon and the time around Bon. These festivals are called Bon-odori in Japanese, and they were originally held to comfort the souls of the ancestors that returned home. People in the same community gather together in an open spot like a park or a square. Then they dance in a circle to Japanese folk songs. A scaffold called a yagura is set up in the center where the Bon-odori is being danced. On the scaffold, a singer called ondotori sings Japanese folk songs while band members called hayashikata play the drums. People, dressed in yukatas, dance in a circle around the scaffold to the music played on the scaffold above them.

お盆の頃には全国各地で盆踊りが行われます。盆踊りは、お盆に帰ってきた先祖の霊を慰めるために、地域の住民たちが広場などに集まって音頭や歌に合わせて踊る行事です。盆踊りが行われる広場には矢倉(やぐら)が組まれ、矢倉の上では音頭取りが民謡を歌ったり、囃し方(はやしかた)が太鼓をたたいたりします。矢倉の周りには浴衣(ゆかた)を着た人々が輪になって集まり、歌や太鼓に合わせて踊ります。

The only other festival that is as important as Bon is the New Year’s Festival. The difference between these two holidays is that Bon is a holiday for Buddhists to comfort the souls of their ancestors, while New Year’s Day is a Shinto holiday that welcomes the gods. For hundreds of years, Japanese people have celebrated and respected the holidays of both religions. Both religions are important to Japanese people. People try to go back to their hometowns around these two holidays. Most Japanese companies are closed for several days before and after the Bon period just as they are closed before and after the New Year’s Day. Even most of the people who live in cities away from their hometowns return to their hometowns to take part in the Bon festivities that are held to comfort the souls of their ancestors. This means that there is a lot of traffic before and after the Bon period.

日本人にとってお盆と同じくらい大切な年中行事にお正月があります。お盆が先祖の霊を供養する仏教の祭事であるのに対し、お正月は神を迎える神道の儀式です。数百年もの間、日本人はこれらの異なる二つの宗教の祭日を大切にし、祝ってきました。そしてこの二つの祭事の期間、人々はできるだけ郷里に帰ろうと努めます。多くの日本の企業が年末年始と同様に、お盆の前後の数日間を休みにします。都会で生活している人も、帰ってくる祖先の霊を迎えるために帰省します。このため、お盆の前後には交通期間が大変混雑します。

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