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Chigusa: 第二十三回 日本文化レッスンでございます。ちぐさです。
Peter: Peter here. Japanese culture class #23. As always, brought to you by Erklaren, translation and interpretation specialists. Chigusa san, it’s just the two of us.
Chigusa: I know. Where is everybody? They are on holidays, right?
Peter: That’s right.
Chigusa: ずるい。Summer vacation.
Peter: And none for us.
Chigusa: None for us.

Lesson focus

Peter: Now Chigusa san, why are they on vacation?
Chigusa: Because it’s お盆.
Peter: Exactly. Now can you tell everybody about this?
Chigusa: Sure 盆 festival or お盆 festival is a Japanese Buddhist event that holds a memorial service for the spirits of the ancestors.
Peter: What’s this called in Japanese?
Chigusa: お盆.
Peter: So we gave you two English translations. What were they?
Chigusa: Bon festival and お盆 festival.
Peter: So the latter is taken directly from the Japanese.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: Okay now when does this festival take place?
Chigusa: July 13th to 15th in some locations and in others, August 13th to 15th.
Peter: I see. Now Chigusa san, can you tell us which is which? Do you know which locations celebrate at what time?
Chigusa: It’s said to be that お盆 is held in July in the eastern part of Japan and August in the western part of Japan.
Peter: Okay so tell us a little bit more about this.
Chigusa: During this period, the spirits of the ancestors return to their homes.
Peter: So it’s during this time that everybody goes home. It’s kind of like a family reunion.
Chigusa: Exactly. They all go home and meet their family, clean up their ancestors graves.
Peter: So they actually go to visit the graves.
Chigusa: Yes.
Peter: Traditionally.
Chigusa: Traditionally yeah.
Peter: Traditionally.
Chigusa: Traditionally.
Peter: But this isn’t always the case.
Chigusa: No because these days it’s just like a family reunion thing. Just go home and like meet your parents, have fun.
Peter: Spend time with your family.
Chigusa: Yeah eat.
Peter: Yeah you didn’t leave that one out.
Chigusa: No never.
Peter: Now – now is there a special dish associated with this time of the year because you know, it’s the summer time. So is there something special during this time?
Chigusa: I am not really sure but I think we eat おはぎ。
Peter: And what’s this?
Chigusa: おはぎ is like rice coated with あんこ。
Peter: あんこ All right. Tell us a little bit about this あんこ。
Chigusa: あんこ is bean paste.
Peter: Very sweet right?
Chigusa: Very sweet.
Peter: So this is kind of like a dessert?
Chigusa: Yes but in some areas, they have it for like main dish sort of.
Peter: Really?
Chigusa: Really?
Peter: Wow!
Chigusa: Yeah they eat it like instead of rice, they have おはぎ in some areas but I can’t understand it.
Peter: Well…
Chigusa: Because it’s too sweet.
Peter: It’s really sweet.
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: All right. So you have the family together paying respects to spirits of the ancestors.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: So we have the dates. Some locations in Japan, it’s July 13 through to 15th and in other locations, it’s August 13th through the 15th. So what are some of the traditional things? They don’t have to be practiced by the majority but kind of traditional things associated with this holiday.
Chigusa: In preparation, Buddhist home altars are prepared complete with offerings in the form of food and vegetables.
Peter: Now, can you tell us a bit more about this? Have you ever done this?
Chigusa: But I’ve done お供え。
Peter: What’s that? Is that….
Chigusa: お供え means to offer like food to the ancestors in the Buddhist home altars.
Peter: Really?
Chigusa: Yeah but I do this quite frequently not only during お盆 but like every day.
Peter: Really?
Chigusa: My grandma does it every day. So when I visit my grandma…
Peter: Now we got...
Chigusa: Actually…
Peter: Now we got the Chigusa san.
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: So typically, what kind of offerings would you give?
Chigusa: Rice and water.
Peter: So it can vary between a bunch of things, not just limited to fruits and vegetables. Kind of food.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: Very interesting. And you put it up there and you leave it there for the day.
Chigusa: Yes.
Peter: Really interesting. Okay what else is kind of associated with this holiday? Now we are going to get back to the お盆 holiday.
Chigusa: Well traditionally, to guide the spirits home, lanterns or fires are lit at the entrances of homes.
Peter: Now is this something you’ve done?
Chigusa: No, never.
Peter: Yeah…
Chigusa: But I’ve seen it. It’s really pretty.
Peter: Really?
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: Maybe in smaller towns with people with – they have their own houses.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: Kind of hard to do in a co-op.
Chigusa: No I mean, I’ve only lived in apartment. So…
Peter: Yeah not too ideal for hanging lanterns. So how big are these lanterns and you’d like them at sundown or how does that work? Candles in there?
Chigusa: Well there is a bunch of different things.
Peter: So some people may have like an Electric lantern nowadays.
Chigusa: Maybe. In most cases, 提灯…
Peter: What’s that?
Chigusa: It’s a Japanese kind of lantern. It’s made of 和紙 paper.
Peter: The thin paper on the outside?
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: And sometimes its character is written on…
Chigusa: Right, right.
Peter: Ah! Can you give us that name one more time?
Chigusa: 提灯
Peter: It’s funny you say that. I know 赤提灯
Chigusa: Huh!
Peter: What’s the difference?
Chigusa: 赤提灯 first of all as you can see by the name is red and its usually associated with food and drinks.
Peter: All right and this color is usually white or the color of the paper beige the 提灯.
Chigusa: Usually white.
Peter: So we have the lanterns, we have the family getting together returning to the hometown and visiting the grave paying respects. What we gave you now is the traditional. Now what we want to do is we want to talk about the reality and kind of what this holiday has developed into. Can you help us out with that Chigusa san?
Chigusa: Sure. As we said, many people returned to their hometowns to visit the graves of their ancestors but the volume of travelers creates one of the three major travel seasons in Japan.
Peter: Yeah this is something we want to talk about too because as we mentioned before, some locations have お盆 in July and some places in August but what’s happened over time is many people have actually switched or started using the August calendar to coincide with other people going on vacation so that everyone kind of has their vacation together, lots of companies have their お盆休み in August. You can take your time off or the company is closed in August. And that’s why over time, this has become one of the most busy travel seasons in Japan. Right Chigusa san?
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: Now this year, when does the お盆 rush? Can we say お盆 rush? When does the お盆 rush start and finish?
Chigusa: This year, it’s going to occur from August 12th to the 15th.
Peter: So if you are traveling in Japan at that time which is next week, you really – next week, it starts tomorrow.
Chigusa: Oh yeah. Oh no!
Peter: So if you are just getting this now, maybe you want to really rethink your plans because it’s going to be a lot of traveling.
Chigusa: Yes traffic, traffic, traffic.
Peter: Lots of traffic. Trains, full trains, planes, everybody is traveling. Now this might actually be a good time to come to the city because everyone is leaving the city in droves.
Chigusa: Maybe yeah.
Peter: And Chigusa san, tell us about what this holiday means now-a-days. We say a lot of people go home but there is also lot of people who use this time to do what Chigusa san?
Chigusa: To go abroad.
Peter: That’s one of them, yeah. Lots of people going abroad and taking this time for family vacations, getting out of the office, getting overseas or not even overseas, inside Japan. People’s traveling, traveling. So this holiday has kind of evolved into a chance to get away. Now Chigusa san, tell us what you usually do on お盆?
Chigusa: The last year, I went to the summer music festival. It’s held every year during the season during the お盆 season.
Peter: Really?
Chigusa: Really.
Peter: So Chigusa san, how many people were there?
Chigusa: Thousands and thousands.
Peter: A lot right?
Chigusa: A lot.
Peter: And why were they there?
Chigusa: This music festival is really famous and a lot of foreign artists come to perform so…
Peter: Now how many days are the お盆 holiday? Did you go to this concert? Did you see a family at all maybe like one day for family and then one day for the concert.
Chigusa: Well actually I live with my family. So it’s like every day is お盆 for me but this festival, I think it was held for two days and I actually went to work…
Peter: Busy, busy.
Chigusa: Yeah busy and I used to work in a record company. So the company itself was supposed to be – it was supposed to be on holidays but because of this music festival, we have to go and work.
Peter: I see.
Chigusa: It was fun though, yeah.
Peter: It seems like a lot of fun. I think the fact that you are supposed to be on holiday and you had to come in to work is also a very unique Japanese custom.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: I think many people.
Chigusa: Many.
Peter: Were in the same position as you.
Chigusa: Yes.
Peter: Okay お盆 holiday starts tomorrow. See you tomorrow but I remember, I will give you a few examples of how I spend お盆. One was with a friend, my best friend. We drove down to Kyoto and Nagoya, Kyoto not for any spiritual thing but for sightseeing. Again that was his company vacation. He chose to go on vacation. We got in the car, we drove down. So I think many young people, they take this chance to kind of do what they want to do.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: Now once you get older and older, I think you kind of start appreciating these customs more and more probably because you can’t go anywhere because you are tied down with a family bus. Oh maybe someone can edit that but…Kind of this is the way it works. Now Chigusa san, I wanted to ask you something. There is something in Japan 1, 3, 7, the years after someone passes away. Is it odd years or can you tell us something about this?
Chigusa: In Japan, we use this system to pay respect to the dead and of course it can go every year but it’s usually 1, 3, 7.
Peter: This pattern.
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: All right. Now we will have more about this inside the PDF because it’s quite unique counting system and back to the story about Kyoto when I went with my friend, there is a specific reason I brought this up. When we went out to Kyoto, on a mountain, we saw a huge kanji, a huge Chinese character burning. Burning on the mountain. Chigusa san, you want to help us out with this?
Chigusa: Sure. That’s the really famous 大文字焼き or in other words 五山の送り火.
Peter: Now I don’t know the second one, but what was the first one again because I know it by that name.
Chigusa: 大文字焼き
Peter: That’s what it is. And what is this?
Chigusa: It’s one of the iconic festivals of Kyoto.
Peter: And what does it mean? What’s this symbol mean?
Chigusa: The character means big 大 but what it means is the end of the お盆 festival.
Peter: Now part of the お盆 festival so that the spirits can find their way home, you use fire.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: Now why would you use fire at the end of it?
Chigusa: We use fire to guide them home but we also use fire to send them out.
Peter: I see. And this is also why they have – there was this festival with the river.
Chigusa: Umm…
Peter: Can you tell us about that?
Chigusa: I think it’s called 灯篭流し and you float paper lanterns on the last evening of お盆 to guide the spirits back to the other world.
Peter: Now when you like these things, they start to burn and they catch on fire so you have the water and the fire coming together and it’s just not like one. There is hundreds of them right?
Chigusa: Yeah hundreds and its really pretty.
Peter: It’s really nice.
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: If you are headed here and you are lucky enough to catch this, it’s really something you want to see, big Chinese characters burning on the mountain. Then in the river, you have people and they are all dressed up for the festival in Kimonos and what’s the summer at Kimono?
Chigusa: 浴衣
Peter: They light it and they send it off into the river.
Chigusa: Hmm…
Peter: So that’s what they are doing. They are sending the spirits off, sending the spirits back to the other world.
Chigusa: Right.
Peter: All right. So I think we covered quite a bit, what’s left?
Chigusa: You missed the fun part.
Peter: The fun part?
Chigusa: The fun dancing part.
Peter: I don’t dance.
Chigusa: You have to.
Peter: Have you done this?
Chigusa: Yes.
Peter: I would like to see that.
Chigusa: Well it’s called 盆踊り. It’s simply 盆 dance 盆 and 踊り but people go around in circles and they dance to the beat of the drums.
Peter: So you have the big drums?
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: And you have the music?
Chigusa: Japanese flute.
Peter: Playing together, is anyone singing?
Chigusa: In some cases, yeah.
Peter: Wow! Circle and circle and how long do you do this for?
Chigusa: Until you drop, till you drop.
Peter: So it’s an all night thing.
Chigusa: Yeah.
Peter: So when does this start? Is this a day time event or night time event? Evening.
Chigusa: I think it depends on the festival or the region but it’s usually done in the evening.
Peter: And is this dance standardized or is it same everywhere?
Chigusa: No I think there is a lot of variations.
Peter: All right. Which one do you do? Do you know the name of it?
Chigusa: I do but it’s easy because everyone does the same thing and they repeat it in circles. So you can just watch what people do and just imitate and you can just join in.
Peter: There it is. Words of advice from Chigusa san. If you can make to the festival, join in the dancing and if you are heading now to Kyoto, check out the mountain. The mountain is specific to Kyoto but what were the lanterns on the river called again?
Chigusa: 灯篭流し


Peter: Now this is really something. If you can make it to a festival where they are doing this, we cannot recommend this enough. It’s really quite something to see. From a distance, you see all the little lights floating down the river although they don’t go too far because they tend to burn up but it’s really a site to see. All right with that said, that’s going to do it for today’s Japanese culture class. Thank you very much Chigusa san.
Chigusa: Thank you Peter.
Peter: It was great to have you. It’s nice to know that someone around here works. Everybody left the office.
Chigusa: I know.
Peter: Sakura, Natsuko, everyone is gone. So it’s going to be quite a challenging next week. All right, so everybody have a great day and we will see you Monday.
Chigusa: またね。


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