This weekend is “Obon” in Japan. Similar to “All Souls Day” in other places. Families return to their hometowns to “ohaka mairi” visit the graves together. They typically bring water to clean the grave sites, fresh flowers, tea and snacks to leave on the site. Their is usually a mass exodus from major cities like Tokyo, and this year was no different. I left Tokyo on Thursday hoping to beat the rush, however, even buying my bullet train tickets three days early I still found that all reserved seats from Thursday on were sold out. I got tickets on an open car on the first train out in the morning. When I arrived at 5:15 to Tokyo station, there were already around 100 people lined up waiting for the gates to open. At exactly 5:30 (and not a second earlier or later), the train staff opened the flood gates and seniors and young people alike ran for the stairs. I had a big suitcase so I had to take the only working escalator,which slowed me down a bit. Fortunately, I was able to get a seat as there were six cars for open seats. By the time we made the second stop people were standing in the aisles.
I hadn’t seen Toshiaki in almost two months. He has been in Yamada since early June. After visiting the volunteer center and finding out that Yamada has enough volunteers for the summer, he committed to spending this summer helping his parents and getting re-acquainted with his siblings and old friends. I have spent most of July working in Tokyo, so I am grateful that I was able to block out this week to go to Yamada.
The second part of the trip, from the end of the bullet train to the local stream train that brought me as far as Kamaishi, (the town where Toshiaki and I met 25 years ago) was less crowded, and the scenery was as always beautiful.
It was great to see Toshiaki although he looked like he had a farmers tan and that he had been separated from his personal barber (me) for awhile. He almost had enough hair for a ponytail. We’ll get to that this weekend.
This Obon is expected to be very important especially for the families of the Tohoku region who lost many loved ones in the tsunami. Most families that have found the bodies have been able to accept better in their minds and make plans for burials and graves. There are however, many people who still have not officially found the bodies and many of these will go ahead this weekend, give up searching and give homage to them as the touring of the graves begin on Sunday.
The town of Yamada and many other towns went ahead with the usual fireworks display in hopes of lifting people’s spirits. There were smiles as well as tears amongst the crowd we were in. Six of the family members went to see they fireworks from a port area that they would view from every year. This year when we arrived, we drove past a pile of destroyed boats, the length of the parking lot and then we instantly noticed a horrific smell coming from the pools of water left over from the tsunami. The stench was so strong, my sister-in-law, Kazuko pulled out masks for us to wear.
All in all the fireworks were beautiful and lifted our spirits.