• Beniko

39. Oshorai-san, Welcoming Spirits of Ancestors

Obon (お盆) is a holiday season in August in Japan, where people return to their parents' house, visit and clean their ancestors' graves. In Japan, it is said that the spirits of ancestors revisit the household altars in this season.

Even in this season of family reunion, we Maiko (舞妓) are not allowed to take a day off. We have to serve at Ozashiki (お座敷, Maiko banquet, Maiko's work place) at night. Plus, in the afternoon, we have to conduct a ritual event called Oshorai-san (お精霊さん), at which people visit Rokudo Chino-ji (六道珍皇寺) temple to welcome the spirits of their ancestors.

Using bundles of Maki (槇, Chinese black pine) twigs, visitors sprinkle water on Toba (塔婆, narrow wooden tablet) on which names of their deceased family members are written, and toll a Omukae-kane (お迎え鐘, greeting bell). The scariest part is the old saying that the spirits get on the shoulders of the person who ring the bell. I was freaked out when I had to and tried not to walk fast so as not to drop the spirits off of my shoulders.

On August 16, the spirits go back to their own land along with Gozan no Okuribi (五山の送り火, Send-off bonfire on five mountains).

Though Oshorai-san is not a custom particularly in Hamanachi (花街, Maiko and Geiko districts), people in my Yakata (屋形, Maiko house) valued this custom a lot. In the morning of this season, our chef called Aba-chan (あばちゃん) made boiled rice and Shoujin ryori (精進料理, vegetarian food) dishes, and every member of Yakata including Maiko and Shikomi-san (仕込みさん, Maiko trainee), took a role of offering the dishes to the altar in daily rotation. Usually, we had the leftover for supper before going to Ozashiki.

At Ozashiki, topics of conversation are often about spiritual matters, sometimes even ghost stories. After listening to those horror stories, we Maiko always got together going back to Yakata because we were all very frightened.

Whenever I hear the term Oshorai-san, the taste of Aba-chan's delicious cordial dishes come back in my heart.

Thank you very much.

Talk to you soon.