Should You Bring The Kitchen Sink?


Tonight after dinner, I took Gabe out for an evening stroll. Usually we walk in the morning, but now with the heat being so intense, I’ve changed up my routine. As it turns out it’s much better now. During the day it’s pretty quiet. But in the evening it’s all action. The neighborhood is alive.

We left the house pretty late. It was about 7:30 and getting dark, but I wanted to take Gabe out to my favorite spot, a little lookout point where you can see all the way to Kadena and past — down to the two red, white and blue towers that look like rocket pops. In the evening it’s really lovely there, with the twinkling city lights and all. So, off we went, walking our way by the red-tiled houses and concrete apartments through the tiny winding little alleys. Those huge fruit bats were swooping around. I’m sure Gabe was like, what the hell mom?…It’s dark, there are big-ass bats out everywhere. But he’s only four months old, so he kept these thoughts to himself. Anyway, I’m exposing him to Japanese culture, enriching his young life. So he can’t complain.

We passed the church, hung a right down a small lane, bid “konbanwa” to a few kids biking by in baseball uniforms, and then passed a house with several cars out in front. Hmmm…something was happening. I looked into the window of another house and saw a large-ish family gathered together in their tatami room. Behind them was their buchidan(a family shrine, also called butsudan) with what looked like food in front of it. That’s when I remembered that today was the first day of Obon, holiday in which families pay respect to their ancestors and welcome them for a three day visit from the spirit world. (Read a nice summary of it HERE)

Since it’s so hot out, practically everyone keeps their windows open and because of the dark you can see right inside everyone’s homes. You can hear everything inside too. Pots clanging, fans whirring, people chatting. Okay, so this is probably terrible of me, but I was totally slowing as I walked by people’s windows and peeking (staring) inside. I’ve read about Obon, sure, but what really happened? What was going on in these houses, down the street from mine, but a world apart? Houses where people sat on pillows on the floor at their low tables, and pictures of ancestors hung at an angle from the wall. Where rice cookers and pineapples sat on kitchen counters and little kids chatted comfortably with their grandparents and great-grandparents?

Gabe and I kept on walking and I kept trying to play cool as I peeped into people’s homes to find Obon evidence. (And tried to piece together what I remembered of the customs that surrounded it.) In some houses there were family gatherings. The eldest son’s homes (where the family’s buchidan is kept), I presumed. A few houses had electric candles at the foot of the front door. Guiding the spirits home? Some had real candles lit inside and there was food set out. Here and there I caught a whiff of incense. Not as much ‘doing’ as I had thought, to be honest. More just a feeling. Maybe I was imagining it, but to me it felt like preparation and family. Kind of like the day before Thanksgiving. But calmer.

So Gabe and I just strolled about, and we took in the happenings of our neighborhood and then, before you know it we found ourselves back on our street. By then was almost fully dark and time to head back inside. I walked the stroller up the steps and through the gate, opened the front door and a blast of air-conditioned air hit me. My husband was sitting at the computer. The Olympics was on TV. Just like that, Japan was gone and we were back in the U.S.


  1. What a great post, Kelly! I especially love the last paragraph. Its so easy to create a little bubble, even if off-base is home, and forget that there is so much to see. However, on Friday, I’ll be in Naha, wiping sweat from my face in my grandmother’s non-air conditioned mansion with other relatives catching up on what’s been going on and smelling the incense from the Butsudan. (Eeek, I HAVE NO IDEA what food I’m taking yet!) Beautiful post.

  2. oooohhh Obon. I forgot about the candles outside the houses. That would be cool to see. Hopefully you didn’t get in the way of any spirits getting into the houses.

    Don’t forget Friday night is the last day of Obon and there will be a huge celebration. All the “towns” will have their Eisa Teams sending off the spirits in good fashion. The Teams will be performing until the wee hours.

    If you get a chance, support your local Eisa team. If you live on base, drive around Hwy 330 near Gate 2 and find the team there. We saw them last year and they were great. They usually end the performance by Koza Music Town.