KYO: Obon & Gozanno Okuribi

Obon & Gozanno Okuribi


Do you have any specific events in your country to greet the ancestors? In Japan, we greet them during a period in summer, called “Obon”. The ceremonies and ways are different in each place, so I would like to write about it for Kyoto, today.

In Kyoto, the starting ceremonies are held from 7th of August to 10th of August in the area where Rokudo Chinnoji Temple is. It is called “Rokudo Mairi”, or “Rokudo-san”. It is said that the area was the entrance gate to another world in the Heian period. So, probably, our ancestors can come back to our world through that gate.

Every year, since I was a child, I go to that temple to welcome our ancestors as a starting ceremony for Obon Week. As soon as I arrive at the temple, I ask one of the staffs there to write our ancestor’s names on small wooden tablets called “sotoba = stupa”. With those “sotoba”, I stand in the line for ringing a specific bell. When I ring the bell, it reaches to another world so that our ancestors are able to notice that we are ready to welcome them. Then I pray for the Buddhist statues in the main building, calling their names in my heart. I purify the sotoba over the smokes of incenses, and put them in front of stone Ksitigarbha statues. I apply water on the sotoba. Here, the ceremony is finished. By the way, there is an old picture, opened to public during this period, which depicts the six domains. The six domains are those of (1) the gods, (2) human beings, (3) animals, (4) asuras or fighting demons, (5) hungry ghosts, and (6) denizens of hell.

During “Obon” especially, my mother takes very good care of our Buddhist alter in my house. It is called “Butsudan”, and we serve vegetables, fruits, sweets, and dishes for our ancestors. The dishes are all vegetarian foods. Before I married, it was my role to buy the sweets every morning to serve to our ancestors. One day, it is simple white rice cakes, on another day, it is bean cakes.

The ending date of the Obon is August 16th. August 16th is one of the biggest events for the people in Kyoto, and it is called “Gozan-no Okuribi”. It is the date we say good-bye to the sprits and they go back to another world again. Every year, even it is not a holiday, from around 20:00pm, I go somewhere I can see one of the 5 mountains (Gozan). I often go to the Sanjo Ohashi bridge, where I can see the mountain with the character of “Dai(大)” (means large, or great) on the Daimonjiyama mountain. The character is made by firewood, and from 8:00pm, the character is lit. Then, at 8:10pm, the character of “Myo Ho (means wondrous dharma)” is lit on the 2nd mountain, the 3rd is “Funagata (means the shape of boat)” at 8:15pm, and the 4th is “Hidari Daimonji” (means “large” on your left hand side) at 8:15pm, too. The last one is “Toriigata (means the shape of torii gates)” at 8:20pm. It is a religious event for me, so I did not stick to find out the best place to see all of them, but in the future, for travelers, I may have to find out the best position that they can see many of those mountains at the same time.