In summer, Japanese people celebrate Obon (お盆), a Buddhist festival honoring the spirits of their ancestors. The festival usually takes place from August 13th to 16th, but some regions keep the celebration in July, following the old calendar.
During Obon, families commemorate their departed relatives and invite them back to the human world for a home visit. They often display a cucumber and an eggplant, with four wooden sticks impaled in them, called shouryou uma (精霊馬) and shouryou ushi (精霊牛 ) respectively.
The cucumber represents a horse that will carry the spirits home fast to be reunited with their descendants. While the eggplant symbolizes a cow that will ensure the souls have a leisurely journey back to the spirit world, leaving them with enough time to visit their families. In modern times, people like to get really creative, so it’s not just cows and horses anymore!
Check out some of our favorite creations below.
Isn’t that Dialga?
— アメノミ (@amenomi1366) August 12, 2021
“Ancestors, please take this horse to come home this year. We are waiting for you.”
— ころり(non_a_karian) (@non_a_karian) August 12, 2021
“First challenge. I was in a battle of wits, trying to find a balance between the legs and the ability to stand it on its own.”
Your ancestors are still proud
— shin (@shin_rockheart) August 12, 2021
“When it comes to Obon, it’s the spirit horse.
I’m no longer willing to put my ancestors on them (lol).”
— mato (@mato30506892) August 12, 2021
全高25cm 全長30cm 全幅15cm
“This year’s cow spirit is A5 rank ‘Venom cattle’ from the United States.
25cm high, 30cm long, 15cm wide.
This is one of the largest cows I have ever made.
The eyes made of Japanese ginger gave it a Venom look.”
The Ghibli nerd
“There’s more this year.
A wild Ghibli-nerd spirit horse.
From past works to new works.”
— いちのせさくや(ΦωΦ)ｽﾍﾟｰｽｷｬｯﾄ (@saku_is) August 12, 2021
“Even grandmother, who didn’t like airplanes, would be willing to ride in a drone made by their granddaughter.”
Japanese vocabulary for Obon
|お盆||o bon||Obon festival|
|旧のお盆||kyuu no o bon||Bon Festival of the old year (held on July 15th)|
|迎え火||mukaebi||Welcoming fire (for the spirits)|
|精霊馬||shouryou uma||Carved cucumber with four wooden sticks for legs, symbolizing a horse to bring the spirits of the ancestors to their home|
|盆棚||shouryou dana||Display shelf for the 精霊馬 and 精霊牛|
|精霊牛||shouryou ushi||Carved eggplant with four wooden sticks for legs, symbolizing a cow to carry the spirits of the ancestors back to the other world|
|盆提灯||bon||Lantern display on Buddhist altars to make offerings to the ancestors|
|閻魔||enma||King of the world of the dead|
|盆踊り||bonodori||Bon festival dance|
|灯籠流し||tourounagashi||An event where lit lanterns float into the sea or rivers along with offerings for the Bon Festival|
|新盆 or 初盆||niibon or hatsubon||The first Obon that’s celebrated after the death of a family member.|
|送り火||okuribi||Farewell fire (for the spirits)|