立秋 Risshū (Beginning of autumn)
August 8–12 涼風至 Suzukaze itaru Cool winds blow
August 13–17 寒蝉鳴 Higurashi naku Evening cicadas sing
August 18–22 蒙霧升降 Fukaki kiri matō Thick fog descends
As the air turns cooler in the evening and in the mornings I can feel a shift in the seasons. The trees are starting to turn and the fields are golden. It’s getting towards the end of summer and the start of Autumn. In Japan they call this a micro season and there are actually 24 seasonal divisions in the calendar that break down further to 72. Autumn breaks down into six changing every few weeks.
Even though there is still blazing heat in Japan at the moment, a cool wind blows for the first time bringing with it fog in the mornings. The cicadas sing the last songs of summer as their life span draws to a close.
On the 13th-15th of August is Obon, a Buddhist custom to honour the spirits of ones ancestors. It is a time of celebration as people feel they are reunited once more with loved ones who have passed away. People return to family homes to show respect by maybe visiting an ancestral grave and being with family.
Spirits are said to revisit their families being guided by lanterns out side their homes. When it is time to leave floating lanterns are sent off down rivers to guide the spirts back.
It is often a time when local communities may have a festival with music and dancing called Bon Odori, people may wear light cotton yukata to keep cool in the heat.
Have you heard of Shouryouma ? They are spirit horses that guide the spirts. They are made from cucumbers and eggplants with skewers added for legs to make them look like animals . Cucumbers are transformed into horses and eggplants into cows. They are said to be the vehicles on which ancestors return and leave our world. The horse is said to ward off evil and serve as fast travel to earth where as the cow is slower to travel back. These can be placed on family door steps maybe with some incense or on an altar with decorated offerings. On the last day of Obon the cow and horse will be left by the river bank. I first saw this on an NHK programme a few years back and thought I would share this incase you didn’t know of it.
In the UK we do not have such a tradition but I thought it might be nice to make Shouryouma and light some incense to remember my father who has passed away and place them on my tokonoma, in my tearoom at home.