August 30th was International Grief Day. It’s fitting since August has always been a month that stood out in my family growing up. As you know my mother lost her family and friends in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Although I didn’t know why my mother had horrible nightmares, spent days in a darkened room depressed, or unexplained anger outbursts that left me walking on eggshells(until I was 11, but even then it was difficult to process). Now that I can, my heart breaks for that 12 year old girl who didn’t quite understand why the atomic bomb took away all she knew and loved. That little girl who had seen images she could never unsee. Images that haunted her the rest of her life.
As a result every August I am proud to tell her story, but it comes with a price. I grieve my mom all over again. It takes a lot out of me emotionally, and that affects me physically as well. Especially this year as I find myself grieving what I used to be able to do last year using a cane(prior to the tech malfunction of the spinal cord stim and spinal surgery this past February), and now dealing with more pain, using a walker/wheelchair and not quite knowing my ‘new normal’.
Our family had some happy moments in August as well. The August of my sophomore year in college, the woman I knew as my Grandmother(you’ll read more about her in the sequel to TLCB) came to visit. I was so excited. She visited us in the US when I was 1 year old, but I of course I had no recollection of that visit(heck now I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday). Luckily, I do have a picture to remind me-of my grandmother’s visit- not my breakfast 😊
We had traveled to visit her in Tokyo when I was 8, those memories were a little fuzzy even for me as an 18 year old.Again, a picture helps.
She had tried to visit at Christmas when I was 16, but she had a mild heart attack at the airport before she boarded the plane. When I finally got to see her, it was beyond wonderful and surprising. My mouth dropped when she stepped out of the car with purple hair!-I kid you not! (maybe that’s where my daughter gets it from) 😊
My husband and I were dating at the time, so my Grandmother also had a chance to meet him. It was very important to get her blessing. I remember when Matt met her for the first time, he had brought her a plant(he worked at a nursery in the summer) and as he passed it to her, you could see his hands shaking. Later that night when Matt and I were at the door about to kiss good night, she came out of the shadows, smiled , opened the door, guided Matt onto the porch,waved and said,” bye – bye” as she shut the door. I still laugh at that memory. Her visit brought happiness to my mother’s most difficult month.
And a bittersweet memory prior to Covid is August in 2019 .I went to RI for my father’s memorial service (he passed away in May 2019). Although there was grief, I also had opportunity to spend time with family and friends that I hadn’t seen in a few years who knew my Mom and Dad. We caught up on each other’s lives and reminisced of happy times when my parents were alive. I could feel the love surrounding us all through that visit.
That visit reminded me of Japan’s special commemoration during August when many families travel from all over the country to return and gather in their hometown. The holiday is O-bon (from the Ghost Festival in China) when people welcome back their ancestors (sosen) to visit their family home for a few days. This holiday, popular in Japan since the Edo period (1603 – 1887) may seem spooky at first, but it is really a beautiful festival to honor and recall happy times together with the loved ones who have passed away.
The O-bon festival origin story begins with Mokuren, the faithful follower of the Great Buddha- it’s a really interesting story about saving his mother’s spirit and if you would like to read more about it, one of the versions of this here or here
O-bon has Buddhists beliefs with elements of Shinto that was added over time is celebrated around August 12 – 16th . But that date may vary depending on region or if using the lunar calendar. And you don’t have to be Buddhist to celebrate.
At the beginning of O-bon, many families may hang lanterns in front of houses to guide ancestors’ spirits back home for their temporary visits. Families may also visit gravesites, clean, and decorate them. In Hiroshima they decorate bamboo lanterns with colorful paper (bon touro) to bring to the graves.
Inside the home, families may set up a temporary special altar called the Shoryodana in front of their family Buddhist altar (batsudan-that is there year round- in TLCB I mention that my mother’s family had one in her home as a child) where they place the ancestor’s favorite food . My mother did not celebrate O-bon in our home, but in August I did notice she put corn on the cob-his favorite (even though he grew up on a corn farm) and an ice cold glass of beer.So, maybe this was her way of celebrating it.
In the hot summer month,most people wear yukatas (summer kimono) while visiting colorful booths with yummy street food, and as with many celebrations, there is a dance.
The festival dance- Bon Odori is a dance to folk music (Ondo) that can vary from region to region. Musicians (taiko drums play a big part) and singers perform on a raised platform(yagura). The yagura is put up to give a way for the spirits to come down and then to join the dance. The dance can be in a circle or straight line-again depends on the region. But regardless of the region it is the older generation teaching the younger one and it is a joyous time.
After the 3 days of celebration the family may lead the spirits back by walking with lanterns back to the gravesite. In some areas floating lanterns (toro nagashi) with messages to their loved ones guide them back. In Hiroshima around August 6th, visitors to Peace park write messages of peace or messages to their loved ones on paper lanterns. At night these beautiful lanterns are lit and then launched in the river. I hope to have that opportunity some day.
O-Bon Festivals are held in other Asian countries as well as in the United States. However, since my mother did not do this tradition with me as a child, I had never been to one until we moved down here to Charlotte, NC! I met Japanese people from all over NC, South Carolina and Georgia (let me tell ya,when you see someone who looks Japanese yet speaks with a southern drawl…it’s like..Wait.. what?!) 🙂
We loved this event sponsored by the Japanese Association of Charlotte! There were Japanese tea ceremonies, delicious Japanese food, various crafts, and a display of the ornamental dolls (hina-ningyo) that is usually put out on Hinamatsuri (Doll’s day or Girls Day) in March. But of course, the main event of this celebration-the Bon Odori-Sara even joined in the dance while someone kindly showed her what to do.
Interestingly, Hiroshima held an O-bon Festival one year after the atomic bombing amongst the ruins to honor the souls of the atomic bomb victims, like my Mom’s Papa. Hiroshima would not have another Obon festival until 2018 (I’m still trying to find out why it was so long)!
And this year is the first O-ban festival in Hiroshima since Covid shut everything down.
So, it only seems fitting that the year O-ban returns to Hiroshima, and it is six years almost to the day of the US book launch 6 years ago (8/13/16)
🎉🎉cheering sound, taiko drum roll……..
THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM’s Japanese Translation by Holp Shuppan Publishing released on August 12th 2022 !!!! スト・チェリー・ブロッサム わたしのヒロシマ 🌸
I feel it is a wonderful way to honor my mom and Japanese ancestors in August. Isn’t the cover just adorable? I love how they focus on the friendship(my Mom wearing braids and red top) as well as her relationship with her Papa. I really appreciate that the Editor Ishihara Noe, translator Yoshida Chiyoko, cover designer Ogawa Keiko (originally from Hiroshima) and the artist Isshiki Mayumi took such care in this. I am so happy that there are pink cherry blossoms on the hardcover of book itself!
So, I put the book next to my mom and her Papa and light an electric candle and hope my mom and family can see
スト・チェリー・ブロッサム わたしのヒロシマ 🌸
My heart is full knowing that the Japanese translation of The Last Cherry Blossom is out in the world. It is a prayer answered-especially as I’m still trying to find my new normal and learning to walk again. A light after 6 months of feeling lost in the darkness of my anxiety and pain. I can only imagine how proud my mother would have been to know that the story of that 12-year-old little girl in Hiroshima is now written in her native language of the country she grew up in – a country that always held a very special place in her heart.🙏❤️
Oh! In case you were wondering, my Grandmother loved Matt and gave us her blessing!
Linking up with Let’s Have Coffee
Source: https://www.sugimotousa.com/blog/obon-festival-history-and-guide https://blog.govoyagin.com/obon-bon-odori/ , GET HIROSHIMA Soranews24 ,New World Encyclopedia
9 thoughts on “August Remembrances and Celebrations”
Kathleen I am beyond delighted to find you here! What a blessing to read your words in this blog post. I absolutely loved reading about the O-bon festival and traditions; I have always been fascinated by and loved learning Japanese tradition. My grandmother lived there with my Uncle and Aunt, actually on Okinawa, (military assigment) and always shared many traditions with me.
I understand about the grief you feel each August, and the bittersweet time of honoring your mother but missing her at the same time.
I enjoyed your book, and look forward to the sequel, in fact I have been praying for you as you pursue writing that!
Rejoicing with you in the Japanese publication of your mother’s story!
Sending love, hugs and many prayers for your health and writing projects!
Kathy your mother is so proud of you I can feel it. You have dedicated your memories to her but she is forever in our hearts.
Thank you so much, Roland. That really means alot to read this. And I love (and agree)that “she is forever in our hearts”. Love you very much ❤
Thanks for this post. So good to hear your voice again on your blog. I’m proud of you for persevering through the pain!
Thank you so much,Carol. It feels good to finally feel like I could actually write one again. 😊Your friendship is a blessing ❤️
Tears. This is such a beautiful tribute to your Mom and Grandmother. Thank you for sharing about the O-ban tradition too. Praying for continued comfort, strength and pain relief for you.
Congrats on the Japanese version coming out – what a beautiful cover. May God now send it out to those who need to know they are seen, known and loved too, through whatever they are facing and their loved ones have gone through. And may the comfort of God you are giving others return to you in encouragement too.
Dear Anna, thank you so very much Your kind words and your prayers touch my heart. 🙏❤️
Congratulations! Thank you for your faithful hard work, Kathleen. ❤
Thank you so much,sweet friend ❤️