‘Bon’ Festival in Japan

In mid-August, Japanese people get a few days’ holiday for the ‘Bon’ Festival that is a Buddhist event to ease the suffering of their ancestors in the life after death. It’s believed that their ancestors’ spirits return to their home during ‘Bon’ and the family and relatives get together to hold a memorial service and have a feast. When I was little, I used to go to pick up my family’s ancestors with my grandmother at the beginning of the ‘Bon’ period. The pick-up spot was a small, ordinary vacant lot on the edge of the hamlet. Our neighbors would also pick up their ancestors there. At dusk, we lit incense sticks there and carried them home, on which smoke our ancestors were supposed to ride to our house. Once we arrived home, the incense sticks were put on the Buddhist altar, and that meant our ancestors came in there. We welcomed them with many plates of food on the altar. Although it had been an annual sacred event for my grandmother and me, it was stopped abruptly one year for good. When I asked what happened to the pick-up, my grandmother said that our ancestors had decided to come home by themselves from now on. In hindsight, I assume the real reason was because my grandmother’s bad leg had gotten worse and she became unwilling to walk to the pick-up spot, or simply the vacant lot was replaced with a new house and there was no pick-up spot available. But back then, it didn’t make sense even to a child that our ancestors suddenly considered their descendants’ convenience and stopped requiring a pick-up. What about an old custom we had observed for a long time…?

jump in the seat up and down

As the summer holidays began in Japan, an old vintage bus has been running for sightseeing spots in the area I moved in. Its one-day pass is $3 and I tried it for the first time the other day. What appeared at the bus stop was a cool hooded bus with the ‘50s or ‘60s style. A conductor was aboard, who collected money for the ticket and announced each stop. The bus’s interior remained of its old one and the unfamiliar cab and the dashboard excited me immensely. But once it got going, it jolted violently for old suspension and made my body jump in the seat up and down, right and left, although it was running on asphalt. The heat was also unbearable since the bus wasn’t equipped with air conditioning. I glimpsed how hard traveling was in the past. While I appreciated authenticity of the bus, I was tired from the uncomfortable ride. Maybe there are some kinds of vehicles that are suitable not to be gotten in, but to be looked at, like this bus or a Formula One car. Watching the quaint bus going through my new neighborhood, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad because it matched well with the town, which meant my new town looked as old as the bus itself…

A man with sunglasses was standing behind me.

When I was six or seven years old, my grandfather took me to my aunt’s house. They weren’t so well-off then, living in a small house with a lot of cats and dogs and eating from the aluminum plates. Across their house was a pachinko parlor. It was a really shabby place. My grandfather took me there and made me wait while he was playing. The place was small, filled with pachinko machines, cigarette smoke and down-and-outers. Since there was no waiting place for a kid, I was just strolling through the narrow aisles between the noisy machines and worn-out people. Suddenly, someone called me and I turned around. A man with sunglasses was standing behind me. He held two buckets of silver balls, which meant he had won a rare amount. The buckets were too full to hold the all balls and some of them were spilling. He pushed the buckets to me and said, “Take these. Go exchange for your chocolates.” Because he pressed them forcibly, I had no choice but to receive. And he disappeared. My grandfather was astounded when he saw me with the buckets and told me to return them to the man, but we couldn’t find him. I had never hold that much chocolate in my arms. The brand of the chocolate still remains my favorite.