Japanese people are generally not very religious, but they often incorporate religious practices into their daily lives. For example, even if they don’t strongly believe in Buddhism, there is a custom of welcoming the souls of ancestors during this season.
In my relatively traditional family, we have a custom of welcoming the ancestors on the 13th of July and sending them off on the 15th. While many people refer to the period from August 13th to 15th as “Obon,” it is often used more commonly to mean “Obon vacation” indicating a time for a vacation rather than specifically observing this traditional custom. I believe there are fewer families have this custom nowadays.
The souls of the ancestors are welcomed with fire. That’s why it’s called “mukaebi” (welcoming fire) and “okuribi” (sending-off fire).
First, we set up dolls. For the arrival, we use a horse to symbolize speed, and for the departure, we use a cow to symbolize reluctance to part.
For some reason, we used to use a cucumber for the horse and an eggplant for the cow. Now it has been simplified, and only the colors remain.
We burn the fire and once we welcome the ancestors, we light incense and offer prayers. Then we extinguish the fire with water.
During the three days of welcoming, the family altar is adorned more luxuriously than usual, and it is customary to keep a light burning throughout the night. However, since the family altar is in my grandmother’s room, I’m sure she turns it off when she goes to sleep.