TOKYO, Japan: O-Bon, a major holiday in Japan to honour the souls that come back to visit the living, is typically an economic boom each year. O-Bon is observed with musicians and dancers that perform throughout the country and the many flowers used as offerings on family altars and gravesites.
Speaking to FloraCulture International this week, executive manager Ryoji Kato of one of the country’s largest flower auctions, OTA, said that sales were good, with demand exceeding supply. He explained that contrary to the spring-held O-Higan, O-Bon celebrates the arrival of the souls and not their departure. “It is a holiday period running roughly between August 12 to 16 with dates that may vary in different parts of the country.”
O-Bon is one of the busiest times of the year for Japan’s floral industry and the OTA flower auction is bursting with activity. “The peak of celebrations falls on August 17 with a multitude of flowers being used to welcome and pay respects to the souls of relatives and loved ones who have died. Mostly pure white flowers are used to honour loved ones who have died during the past year. ‘Older’ souls are welcomed with many kinds of flowers such as Chrysanthemums, Gentianas and Physalis,” said Kato.
Flowers have symbolic meanings. “Physalis, for example, is a flower that mimics the lanterns that help spirits find their way back home and hang over family altars. Also placed before these ornate wooden cupboards are horse-shaped cucumber and a cow-shaped eggplant. The horse should bring the dead back home as quickly as possible while the cow is symbolically used to send the souls back to the graveyard as slowly as possible as O-Bon is ending,” explained Kato.
O-Bon is a quintessentially Buddhist event, though mainly celebrated in Japan. The Japanese have traditionally practiced that the souls of the dead continue to live in animals, plants and inanimate objects should therefore be worshipped. It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year: a tradition that reunites families and friends together. During O-Bon, Japanese decorate the graveyards of ancestors and family altars with flowers.
Kato said that in the run up to O-Bon, the auction is extremely busy in servicing bouquet makers. “People usually purchase take-away O-Bon bouquets at supermarkets. As such, auction reps and bouquet makers frequently sit around the table to discuss the compositions of bouquets.”