Michaeline: Obon and Japanese Ghosts

balloon flower, phlox, China asters, yellow lilies in two celadon vases

Here are the offerings for our home altar, all from our family’s gardens. (E.M. Duskova)

I’m writing a ghost story today in honor of Obon. Obon holidays usually take place in our area in the middle of August during the hottest part of the year. It’s believed that ancestors come home for a visit on Day 1, stay on Day 2, and return to the other realms on Day 3. People clean the graves in preparation, and get offerings of flowers, snacks and drinks ready for the home altars.

Usually, it’s a great time to catch up with families. Even though people are supposed to stay home during this time of Corona, we’ve had family over – opened the windows, disinfected the table and hoped for the best.

A small family altar with offerings of fruit jelly, Bireley's soda, water, and snacks. Candles, singing bowl.

This is the small altar for our family at the local temple. We brought offerings of flowers, fruit jelly, water, Bireley’s Orange Soda, and some cookies. The temple provides the candles and the incense. (E.M. Duskova)

Traditionally, ghost stories have been a popular part of the Obon season – it seems natural with the ghosts of the relatives coming home, but also the delicious chill you get down your back when someone tells a really spooky story is said to be a good way to beat the heat.

My husband has absolutely no use for ghost stories, and even dislikes dolls that look like they could rise up in the middle of the night and strangle an unwitting homeowner. So, we don’t tell ghost stories to each other. But still, ghost stories abound.

Here are some thrilling Japanese ghost stories as told by foreigners on the Gaijin Pot blog. https://blog.gaijinpot.com/true-japan-ghost-stories-from-gaijinpot-readers/ The story of the baseball boys (almost all boys in baseball club in Japan get a buzz cut) was very touching, but the last story from Nana about her hotel in Minami Senju was perfect – a fun ghost story that sent those refreshing chills down my spine, but didn’t creep me out. Which story was your favorite?

And for more about Obon, here’s something I wrote in 2017 about preparing for the Buddist priest’s visit to read a sutra for Obon. https://eightladieswriting.com/2017/07/08/michaeline-secure-your-belief-systems/

Also, a quick update to my blog post about nothing.

rectangular bucket full of flowers

I went out in the cool of the morning to pick flowers for the offerings. Phlox, Oswego tea, Texas bluebells (they are pink, though!), blue salvia, pink balloon flower, China asters. (E.M. Duskova)

https://eightladieswriting.com/2020/05/23/michaeline-nothing-to-say/ I’ve kept up with the lawn, my lemon balm is doing very well this year, and the flowers I planted for Obon? Success! We had mums, lilies and balloon flowers from my pots, and my mother-in-law’s greenhouse and gardens provided China asters, Texas bluebells (they aren’t blue! and in Japanese, they aren’t Texan, but Turkish!) and there’s phlox in the ditch.

Only two and a half months to Halloween, and the Western ghost stories!

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Obon and Japanese Ghosts

  1. Balloon flowers are my absolute favorite. Each blossom looks like a tiny gift waiting to spring open and surprise you.

    Most of our bluebells here are Virginia bluebells are decidedly blue but I did spot a few pink ones on the hillsides this spring.

    Have an enjoyable visit with your ghosts!

    • I love balloon flowers so much! It’s such a surprise, like you say. They bloom around Obon, and they are TOUGH! About half of my balloon flowers were planted in pots last year, and just before I was going to stick them in the garage to winter over, I developed a herniated disk and couldn’t do anything with them. I was sure the harsh winter would kill them and any seeds.

      But . . . late spring came, and I decided to plant lilies and clematis in the pots instead . . . and I noticed the strange, diamond-shaped little leaves coming up among the weeds. Hot dog! I was in business! I wound up with a lot of pots of short balloon flowers from last year, and four pots of taller balloon flowers that I bought this year.

      This year, I’m going to do my best to overwinter them in the garage, but I love them even more now that I know they are so tough!

      That was a digression — I meant to say that I posted the flowers on Twitter, and wanted to figure out what Turkish Balloon Flower (Toruko kikyou) was in English. I discovered that they are called Texas bluebells, and they bloom all over the southern Great Plains — including Nebraska. I also found out that the Japanese have been cultivating them for 70 years, and have all sorts of varieties now. So, a little midwestern flower, far from home, yet blooming.

      The only problem is that the Texas bluebells are VERY finicky about seeding, and are susceptible to all sorts of diseases, so I probably won’t be growing them outdoors. But my MIL has gotten a few seedlings from a friend the last few years, so we’ll be able to enjoy them anyway.

  2. The ghost stories from the blog were interesting—so many people seeing ghosts! And so matter of fact about it all. 🙂 Your altar and flowers are beautiful. The ancestors should be pleased.

    • (-: It’s so funny to get on Reddit and see when someone Asks Reddit for ghost stories. So many people have funny ones, scary ones, ones with mystery. I don’t personally have any ghost stories. I did see a monster in the pantry when I was five years old on my way to the bathroom one night, but since it looked EXACTLY like the Frankenstein monster in the classified ads of comic books, I’m pretty sure my brain created that one.

  3. Oh, the flowers! They’re so beautiful! I miss flowers. Nothing grows right now in Arizona. We’ve even had to let our tomato and herb gardens succumb to the heat.

    What a lovely offering you’ve made. Well done!

    • Thank you! I can imagine how tough it is in Arizona in August, but at least you have winter rains to look forward to. Pretty cactus blossoms? We certainly have a lot of flowers right now, but we also get six months of snow (November through April, and sometimes May), so . . . plus/minus, plus/minus.

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