O-Bon, the Spirit Festival at the Portland Japanese Garden

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One of the key reasons I annually renew my membership to the Portland Japanese Garden is so that I can attend this members only event each August. During this time of year in Japan, for 3 days each summer, there is a spirit festival which is considered a homecoming of sorts to welcome back the spirits of ancestors into your home and life. Ever since my first visit to this festival, back when I was still a teenager, the Rev. Kodachi has led the Buddhist ceremony. I am honored to know both he and his wife. (I used to work with Mr. Kodachi during the summer for a week-long Japanese exchange program he created and Mrs. Kodachi just so happens to be my ikebana sensei.)

Before the ceremony, guests gather for Bon Odori. Of the 3 dances performed last night, this is the one I’m most familiar with since I learned it years ago. It is the dance of the Tankō Bushi or “coal mining song.”
Guests enter the garden after the performance, and as the Rev. Kodachi chants, we are handed candles that are later lit and are floated on the pond en masse.
Guests continue on and gather on the Moon Bridge. They can be seen to the left.
Sadly my Grandmother Virginia’s name was not read, but when my candle was sent out, I thought a lot about her.
To my great surprise, for the first time, I heard much more weeping around me from the other guests and it made me smile.
I looked up at the night sky through the pine needles above and I thought about how she and I used to cry together so often. This would make us turn to laughing eventually and giggling about being such sensitive women. Grandma called us crybabies and she used to apologize that I’d inherited her traits but I’d comfort her by telling her that my sensitivity made me strong by making me vulnerable and honest.
We both knew we had the horrible fate of being born with the hearts and souls of poetesses. Those around us did not understand this, and in my case, they still don’t, but it’s ok. Grandma feared others really knowing her, and knowing this weakness she had, but I am so proud she gave it to me too and I thanked her last night since it’s what has made my life so unique and special. She gave me my heart and soul. This is a beautiful thing to give a woman and I am grateful above all else to her.

The alter.

After the event was over, I spent additional time speaking with the Rev. Kodachi, Mrs. Kodachi, and their son—whom I haven’t seen in years. I met two of their granddaughters and I was filled with that happiness I so often have when I see small little women. We spoke of my divorce, my health, my plans for the future, and then I promised to return to ikebana classes next month.

I have my spirit back now and I very much look forward to moving on in my floral arranging studies. Ikebana is my art form and poetry and I really hope to keep doing it for many years to come.

The lights collecting, reflecting in the water, the koi sleep beneath.

2 thoughts on “O-Bon, the Spirit Festival at the Portland Japanese Garden

  1. I was a member for years…but don't remember ever hearing about this. Then again…I mostly just went during autumn. Sounds like a wonderful, beautiful ceremony 🙂 I really must renew my membership this year. I always wanted to go to the moon viewing…but always missed it 😦

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  2. How amazing…I wish I could have been there….thank you for sharing…I understand the way you are…no, others dont really get it….but I also have a sensitive (introverted feeling) granddaughter that I gave this gene to.she is 4..and we have a special bond….and I see in her eyes that she looks up tp me….It is not a weakness in the Japanese and Indian culture……

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