Last Thursday night I slept over at my friend’s house in Yokohama. What I thought was a regular sleepover turned out to be a surprise matsuri (festival) celebrating Obon. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist holiday in which people honor their ancestors. Many festivals have fireworks and an assortment of street foods to enjoy and people often dress in yukata (cotton summer kimono).
My friend’s host mother and her friend helped us to wear yukata. We each got to pick out our favorite yukata pattern and obi (belt). She also let us borrow bags and some flip flops. I chose a yukata with a black base with small white leaves and large flowers colored in green, orange, and blue. I chose an orange obi to go with it. Two of my other friends also chose dark colored yukata with floral patterns. One interesting thing about yukata and obi is that it is perfectly ok, and normal, for the yukata and obi not to match in color or pattern. Contrasts are supposed to make it more interesting and appealing to the eye. However, because I am American, I had to have my obi match at least a little bit to my yukata. One important part of Obon matsuri is Bon Odori, Obon dances. The dances were originally intended to welcome the spirits of the deceased but now it has become fun and entertainment for people of all ages. Dances differ from region to region, which explains why my host family did not know any of the dances when I told them about the festival (we live in Tokyo). My friends and I tried to follow along with the dances and it was a lot of fun even though we messed up a lot. We did an obake (ghost) dance and a dance where everyone shouted “ai shiteru” (“I love you”). We also did a dance move that looked a lot like swimming.
After dancing we worked up an appetite so we walked down to the food stalls. There was so much to choose from and it all smelled so good. I wanted to eat everything. My friend and I decided to split two things: a baked potato and buta bara (grilled pork on a stick). You buy a baked potato and then you get access to all the condiments. We chose corn, butter, and salt. There were huge buckets of soft butter and we smothered the baked potato in it. So delicious! The grilled pork was also really tasty and well-seasoned. After eating we washed it down with some peach flavored ramune (a type of soda).
After we got home we went into the back yard and proceeded to do hanabi (fireworks). My favorite was the sparklers. Because I am from New York City I never had the chance to do fireworks when I was younger because they are prohibited in the city. Therefore, it was a really special treat for me to use the fireworks. We concluded the day with cake and showers, extremely tired and extremely satisfied with the day’s events.