Dancing With Great Great Grandpa

I grew up just a few blocks form a Buddhist temple. Or maybe it was a community center. It looked more like a community center compared to the temples and shrines in Japan. But I really don't know. I do know that every August they would host the Obon Festival and we would always walk down the street and have some fun. We would see bonsai trees on display, and sumo demonstrations. We would eat teriyaki chicken on sticks and play games and try to win goldfish. I always wanted to win a goldfish! (Bless my parents!) 

It wasn't until I was grown and married and had moved to Japan to teach English that I really understood the Buddhist holiday called Obon and how it commemorates one's ancestors. "It is believed that each year during obon, the ancestors' spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives." Family members hang lanterns in front of their houses to guide their loved ones home. Food offerings are made and they dance. 

We were so lucky to have been able to live in Gujo Hachiman. A small mountain town that is crossed by two rivers. The town is in the Gifu Prefecture and is known for it's pristine waterways. In fact, people came from all over Japan to drink the water. Or so we were told! 
The streets of Hachiman 

The streets are lined with canals that they still used to wash clothes and vegetables and whatever else you want to wash out on the street. The citizens of the town take great pride in the water and have kept it running the same way it was in the 1600's. One thing I learned while living in Japan, technology is for electronics, not for plumbing. 

Getting ready to go 
dance the night away 
The other great thing about Hachiman was that it was also known for it's distinctive summer dance festival. It is called Gujo Odori and it was started 400 years ago and still continues to this day! 

(Ok, this reminds me of when one of my students asked what we studied in school in the states and I listed a bunch of classes and one of them was US History, to which he responded, that must not take very long! It totally made me laugh. But the comparison to his country with such amazing history, it's just remarkable!) 

Sorry! Where was I? Oh, right! Gujo Odori. Gujo Odori is basically a 31 night dance party. Yep, they dance from the end of July to the start of September. Then, during the nights of Obon, which is the 13th to the 15th of August the dancing goes all night long! Talk about a party! My parents came to visit us while we were there and we took them to one of the nights festivities. One of the women we tutored brought us some Yukatas to wear. (A Yukata is a summer Kimono. Made of cotton, not silk. When you're dancing all night long you don't want to have to wear a 20 lbs dress!)  
Some of my students! 
Now every August I think of this small part of my life, of my past. I think of those in my family who have gone on, both who I have known and who are just names on a pedigree chart. All of my kids are named for someone from our family. Either a living grandparent, or one who is gone. Some day I will see those who have gone again, or I will meet the ones I never knew. Who are just a name. I think of how I would like to dance with them. So lets light the lanterns and start the music.

Thanks to http://www.japan-guide.com for some of the facts!


  1. What a beautiful tradition and an amazing experience for you to have spent time in Japan. The holiday reminds me of Day Of the Dead, the Mexican holiday that has always interested me. Thanks for sharing your story and pictures!

  2. We were so fortunate to be able to spend a bit of this time with you. Great memories.

  3. What a wonderful experience! I chuckled at the idea of our history being so very short compared to the Japanese history...so true, and yet, we teach it to death! And we stretch it out...and we think it's all important! (It has value, not trying to say it has none, but we are most certainly not the only country on the planet, just saying....)


Thanks, Y'all for sharing your thoughts! I'm love'n hear'n from ya!