Summers in Japan are filled with festivals and celebrations for everything from fans to flowers, but today marks the last day of Obon, one of the most special.
“Decorated with messages of goodwill, the lanterns bob on the river’s gentle current...”
For the last week, offices closed and people spent time visiting friends and family and savoring the warm evenings that will soon yield to autumn’s crisp chill. Although each community organizes their own local celebrations, the festival in Kyoto is one of the country’s largest, famous for maintaining centuries-old traditions honoring the past as a way to more fully embrace the present.
One of my favorite parts of Obon is the toro nagashi, which happens as the sun begins to set. Friends and family gather along the banks of the river to float paper lanterns, lit with candles and placed on bamboo bases. Decorated with messages of goodwill, the lanterns bob on the river’s gentle current, slowly drifting downstream into the distance until disappearing into the night. This gorgeous event is a beautiful combination of joy and reflection, symbolizing a send-off to the past and illuminating the ephemerality of the seasons, and by extension, life.
Children delight in decorating their lanterns and watching them float away while paying homage to their family history. Obon is a time of celebration, with markets and stands offering traditional outdoor foods, games and other diversions for people strolling and relaxing.
Relishing the present as a way to commemorate the past is a wonderful way to stay mindful, and is something always strive for but often struggle to achieve. It’s easy to think of the past and get caught up in thoughts of what should have been and what hasn’t, but letting these thoughts float away like little paper lanterns and remembering how far we’ve come is a small moment to celebrate.