Obon. What is Obon? Obon is a Japanese holiday in which they celebrate the spirits of the ancestors whom have died. They believe that during this week of festivities their ancestors come back to celebrate their lives with the living family members and they remember and rejoice for the dead. In doing so they carry flowers and set them on piles, light incense with a Buddhist monk, throw fire crackers, wheel floats around with pictures of their ancestors on them, and make lighted lanterns to set in the water. I arrived in Japan on a Sunday and Obon was being held that very next Wednesday. Since I didn’t get my uniforms till Wednesday afternoon it made it very hard to meet people since I couldn’t even be seen at my job. All of the girls I was sharing a room with were gone at schools and I was spending the past few days alone. This left plenty of time for me to explore Sasebo and find out what Obon was all about.
On Wednesday I was still recovering from the jet lag but I set out on foot leaving the naval base behind me as I joined the crowds celebrating Obon. I didn’t know exactly where they were headed but all of the Japanese people marched to a baseball field where they brought straw mats wrapped with flowers and floats with pictures of their deceased loved ones. As I was walking down the street I turned a corner and almost screamed because people were throwing firecrackers around a float and it scared the crap out of me! I decided to follow them because they seemed to be the life of the party. I think they became suspicious because they kept looking back at me, but I didn’t mind. I just smiled and nodded.
Then we got to the baseball field and there was already a large pile of flowers and straw mats with floats in the middle. It was a somber atmosphere and once you placed your flowers onto the pile you walked over to the monks and burned some incense and prayed. As I found out, it is very somber during the day, and as the night and celebrations press on, the drunk people start livening up the night singing and dancing. A guy from my ship showed me a video from last year of a Japanese guy who was really drunk, standing on tons of floats and lighting firecrackers off. I missed all that. After I left the baseball field I went and found a small diner that was making rice and noodles and had some dinner then walked back to the barge.
Preparing a mini Pire for the dead.
Watching floats walk towards the event on the streets while they throw firecrackers on the ground.
On Friday some of the girls from my ship were having a little get together to say goodbye to another girl who was heading back to America. They invited me along. It was awesome! We went to this place that the American’s call the Beer Garden and its on the top of this building that has a supermarket beneath it. I tried to take a taxi there but it failed miserably. The taxi driver dropped me off and I started walking and I called one of the girls for help and in the end I walked all the way back to where I got picked up in the first place. It was the most pitiful taxi ride I’ve ever had and it cost me 500 Yen.
Once I finally got there, I found out that you pay one fee and its all you can eat and drink. The food was okay but as far as the drinking goes I had my first experience with Chuhi’s [chew-high’s]. Chuhi’s are these flavored drinks made of Sochu which is a lil like sake but not quite, a dab of flavored fruit syrup, and some seltzer water served with a lime. I started drinking my first one (a peach flavored one) and was like, O come on this is so not even alcoholic at all. I mean not even a small hint. Then I had a second one (a lime flavored one) and when I finished that and went to stand up I realized that things were starting to swim around in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. I quit drinking them right then because I was walking back to the base and I didn’t want to get lost so I had no form of communication. They are so delicious!
The beer garden closed at 9 unfortunately but that didn’t stop these crazy americans, so about 15 of us walked down the street to the next bar which was called the Westerner and it was a sight to behold. All of these older Japanese women dress up like Westerner’s and they serve beer out of boot glasses. I had heard of it and seen pictures of it from other people who have been to Sasebo but there’s nothing like living it. We karoke’d and one of the guys in our group even sang a Japanese song. it was pretty outrageous.
Japanese salt shaker.
On Sunday I decided to go to the Goto Islands, but you’ll have to wait for the next post for that!