Tokyo Now

Tokyo Now# 12: Significance of Obon, meeting ancestors, ceremony

Tokyo Now

We are in the middle of very hot summer season. This season is called “Obon.” This season is for most workers, summer holiday period. Many people go back home to meet their family members and visit graves of their ancestors.

However, since the novel coronavirus pandemic occurred, the form of the customs changed. People are advised not to travel around. At the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, one of our regular tour course, on 15 August, ceremony of burning lanterns called “Toro” was held in the backyard of the temple premise.

Toro is a lantern that represents a soul of the dead coming down to the earth only in this season so we can greet the dead ancestors. Every year lanterns are floated on nearby Sumida river and later collected and burned to the heaven. A lot of people gathered on the riverside to see the lanterns floating on the river. Not to create big crowds, that festival was cancelled. Instead lanterns were burned directly and monks chanted along with the growing flame.

(Photos of 2015 Obon lantern floating festival)

As you know big events like Tokyo Olympics (postponed to 2021) were cancelled this year. In Asakusa, Sumida river firework festival was cancelled as well.

But Obon ritual is something we cannot easily cancel because we have to respect our ancestors. Our ancestors overcame a lot of other pandemics in the past. We surely need to know the wisdom to overcome this pandemic. So we can get together with other peoples in the world again like pre-pandemic period.

Let’s pray to overcome this pandemic and have wonderful moments again in the near future! We wish you health!