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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #241: August 13, 2004

Holiday Travel Bug Hits Japan

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

"Holiday Travel Bug Hits Japan"
(UPI) The Washington Times

Related Article:
"Tokyo Residents Flee Capital for Bon"
The Japan Times


"Bon" or "o-bon" - where the prefix "o" makes it into a polite form seen also on other occasions in contemporary Japanese - is, put simply, originally a Buddhist festival where ancestors' spirits are invited back home to spend some time with the family.

Technically, the key day, according to Buddhism, is July 15 on the lunar calendar, when Buddhist monks gather to confess their sins to each other and seek enlightenment in return. When the current calendar was adopted in early Meiji era about a century ago in Japan, with the intention of catching up with the then advanced Europe, most of the Japanese people were farmers. As mid-July being one of the busiest periods in taking care of rice fields, and as it was cumbersome to calculate the traditional July 15 on the new calendar each time correctly, most of the communities across Japan - with the exception of, interestingly enough, Tokyo, as farms were of less significance there - moved the day to celebrate o-bon to 15th of August.

(By the way, in China, the New Years is celebrated at the beginning of a lunar year, which most of time falls on a day in early February. On the other hand, in Japan, as there was not much to do during that cold season anyway, the New Years was simply changed to be celebrated in accordance the new calendar.)

In many Japanese homes o-bon begins with the lighting of lanterns, often hung in doorways to guide the spirits home. The spirits are believed to visit for several days before returning to the netherworld. Thus o-bon is not a rigidly set, one-day event, but rather considered to be a season, albeit a short one.

Another less romantic, but practical cause of the across the country phenomenon is an offspring of industrial revolution. In its early days, there was not much concern for such things as "workers' rights", which was the norm in any country in the world at the time. The only occasions liberated from work for a few consecutive days were for the New Years and o-bon.

Nowadays, many manufacturers stop their production lines during the period, not only to provide holidays to the workers according to tradition, but also to utilize the opportunity to do some maintenance work on the lines. Offices, because there is not much of real goods being processed, also close down, which has a domino effect of un-necessitating other offices to be kept open. Even the government welcomes this trend as it would have the effect of shaving energy consumption at the peak of demand season otherwise running air conditioners at full blast.

For those working in big cities, they head their hometowns not only to reunite with their families but also to meet with neighborhood friends they used to play with when they were young, Others would try to take their kids, in the midst of their summer vacation, out of the city to let them experience some hint of nature.

Perhaps in theory, it would be more comfortable to stay in the quiet city in an air-conditioned room, and tackle some of those books piled up hoping to be read someday. But then, it might just be in the blood, that Japanese people simply cannot resist hitting the road during the few days this time of the year, as if to enjoy the crowd on highways and trains in the scorching heat.

Copyright © Japanese Institute of Global Communications