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Japan’s Obon Festival: “National Ethics Education” that combines education and entertainment

  Cucumber horses, ghost lanterns, eggplant cows, and river lanterns do not require much language. They will convey the meaning of Obon to the hearts of children, and let them know how to be grateful and express their emotions.
  The love for traditional customs and culture is a major element of Japanese aesthetic awareness, and the Japanese spare no effort in inheriting traditional customs and culture. It’s just that Japanese people who have a mindset of focusing on subtle things and embracing things often adopt the “intuitive education method” where more talk is worse than more action, breaking down various concepts into details and instilling them bit by bit. to posterity. They believe that “it is possible to generate a whole by the aggregation of details”, and knowing each detail can include and reflect the whole.
  This mode of thinking is particularly prominent in the display and inheritance of customs and traditions. They lead the next generation with meticulous and specific behaviors rather than dogma. Starting from “playing”, they stimulate children’s interest, curiosity and imitation, and lead them into the world of traditional culture to perceive and feel, and finally through Action makes it part of its own subjectivity.
  There is a Japanese proverb: “Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, the first month of the Ullambana.” It means that the Obon Festival and the New Year are like the four seasons that affect people’s lives, and they are as indispensable as the four seasons. It can be seen that in Japan, the most solemn festivals of the year are the Obon Festival and the New Year.
  ”Ullamban” is actually a Sanskrit word, “Ullan” means “hanging upside down”, “pen” means “redemption vessel”, “Ulanpen” means “vessel used to rescue the suffering of hanging upside down”. For the Japanese who have a strong concept of worshiping ancestors and making offerings, the large-scale Obon festival is an annual “cross-border connection” between today’s people and their deceased people, and the protagonist of this connection is children.
  The Obon Festival is called July and a half in China, and it is fixed on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month. Seven is a mysterious number: the Big Dipper has seven stars, a week has seven days, a person has seven apertures, the Pure Land has seven treasures, and the bardo has seven or seven; and the regular heptagon was proved by the genius German mathematician Gauss that it could not be drawn with a compass and a ruler. “For this reason, it is always revered by Westerners.
  I don’t know if this is the reason, but in China, July and a half has a mysterious and even heavy face. But in Japan, its “expression” is completely different from China, showing warmth, joy and peace everywhere. At that time, the whole country was on holiday, and countless people returned to their hometowns to welcome the return of the ancestors’ spirits, spend a few days with them, and then send them back. The duration of the festival is also different from that in China, which lasts three or four days until the full moon is not full.
  Therefore, every Ubon festival, the tablets of the ancestors will be invited out of the shrines and offered on a large table, together with pots and pans filled with various flavors and five fruits, as offerings. In addition to placing tributes, Japan also has some unique rituals to welcome and send off ancestors. Most of these rituals are in charge of children at home, expressing piety through meticulous handwork.
  First, make a horse shape with cucumbers. Adults will tell children: the ancestors return far away, and their hearts are like arrows, so let them return on horseback. Make a cucumber into a horse, with a slender body that can take several people at a time. So what are horse legs used for? Use bamboo chopsticks. Fold it into four sections, insert two sections in the front of the cucumber and two sections in the back. The front is the part with Guadi, which must face the ancestor’s tablet, so that the soul knows the direction of home.
  In addition, lanterns and ghost lanterns are also burned to light up the return journey of the ancestors. The ghost lamp is a sour berry, which is shaped like a lantern, the color is like a firework, and there is a soft orange fruit heart. This “heart” can also be hollowed out to make a “ghost lantern”, which can be placed on the mouth to blow a sound similar to the night wind, telling the ancestors “home is here”. “Drawing out the heart” is a technical job, and it is difficult to succeed. Therefore, every time it comes to the Obon Festival, many children will work hard to do this, for fear that their ancestors will not hear the call from them.
  After a few days, the banquet will be dispersed, and it is time for the ancestors to embark on the return journey to the Pure Land of Bliss. At this time, the adults will tell the children: when you go home, go on horseback and go when you are a cow. When the ancestors’ spirits go back, they go back one step at a time, so don’t let the ancestors ride a horse, it’s better to ride an ox.
  Cow…cucumber is a horse, what is a cow?
  eggplant. The fat eggplant is heavy and can’t walk fast. It is the most suitable to use it as a substitute for cattle. Therefore, the pious child will go to the supermarket, choose the fattest eggplant, and turn it into a cow in the same way as a cucumber horse. This time, Niu Tau-Gatti had to turn his back to the tablet, because he was going to leave.
  When the full moon begins to disappear, the ancestors are telling the family: We have left home and returned to the Pure Land, and those sacrifices should be withdrawn.
  At this time, the children will join the adults to put the horses and cattle that have completed their missions into the sea or bury them in the soil, as a thank you and tribute to them.
  Some areas also follow the custom from China: putting river lanterns, the Japanese call it “sending fire”. Under the guidance of adults, children will make river lanterns carefully, write their family names, and put them into the river to light up the night for their ancestors, so that their souls will not get lost, not alone, Don’t panic.
  Cucumber horses, ghost lanterns, eggplant cows, and river lanterns do not require much language. They will convey the meaning of Obon to the hearts of children and let them know how to be grateful and express their emotions. Although I don’t think the ancestors’ spirits will come back on horseback or ride an ox back, but every time the Obon festival in Japan, I still pay homage to my ancestors with my children and express my love. This is probably the power of culture.
  In this way, the Obon Festival has also become a national festival that Japanese children love most and are most willing to participate in.