Last Sunday we got to participate in my in-laws’ O-bon traditions. As always, the most concise explanation comes from Wikipedia: “Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one’s ancestors. This Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars.”
The main household altar for the extended family is at the home of my father-in-law’s eldest brother. On the first day of O-bon, kindling was burned in front of the house so that the ancestral spirits could find their way there. Over the next two days family members dropped by to pray at the little altar. On the altar were a number of offerings: fruit, various kinds of sweet cakes, and two darling horses made from vegetables. When we came over, we lit incense and then H got to ring the bell (the dark metal bowl on the right). On the last day of O-bon kindling would be burned again so the smoke would lead the ancestral spirits back to the graveyard.