Saturday, August 14, 2010

Obon: Reconnection

Obon is the Japanese festival of the dead. People invite their ancestors to come to their homes, back from the spirit world on the 13th, then send them off again on the 15th. The time is characterized by festivals and celebrations, and families typically flood out of the cities and back into the countryside, everyone heading for their ancestral homes. It is sort of like Easter or Thanksgiving in the way that people all go stay with family.

Which, understandably, is a bit of a strange time for us JETs. I mean, the festivals are fun, and this year I even got semi-invited to a family's BBQ dinner on Friday evening. There are fireworks and stall-food and children running around in yukata and jinbei and other outfits. The people watching to be had at the local park's celebration was pretty awesome. We did a little bon-odori (the special Obon dance) and watching a little fireworks.

But it's strange because of the timing, mostly. The JET year starts at the end of July or beginning of August, so all newcomers are just getting their feet on the ground. Often, Obon is the first Japanese festival they'll see. But Obon's all about going home and connecting with your roots... things which we all just left behind (if temporarily) in order to be here.

I thought it would be easier to come back to Japan than it was to come to Japan, and in some ways it was (my stuff was here already, and more or less set up.. I already know the people at my job, etc. etc.).. and in some ways it was harder. I think expecting it to be easy has contributed a bit to making it harder. I also have less pressing stuff to do at work (reading over everything I got from predecessor and orientation), so I have been really listless all week, affected by jet-lag (not a problem by the time I got to work upon first arrival), and also that emotional component of jet-lag that is perhaps peculiar to the notion of leaving a place that seems to contain every person by whom you feel loved and going far, far away.

And that is harder the second time, because you've been far, far away for a year already, and the first time you left, you'd been living there and seeing all those people for so long you might even have had time to get sick of some of them..! But the second time you only ever had like a few hours with anyone, or so it seemed.

And then you're driving south on 29, dismissed at 11am from work, glad you don't have to go north because the traffic is ridiculous, and every car is full of people and stuff, maybe grumbling about the traffic, dreading grandpa's endless stories, or grandma's stupid little dog, wondering if the kids will ever stop hitting each other back there, and good grief why didn't you go before we left? Instead, off you go, flying and not crawling, but solo.

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