Kyu-Bon Festival in Okinawa
Feel the culture of “Unkeh Ukui”
What is Kyu-Bon in Okinawa?
Obon Festival is an annual summer event that is held not only in Okinawa but throughout Japan, to commemorate one’s ancestors. Obon is a unique Japanese custom to welcome the spirits of ancestors and holding a memorial service.
Obon is referred as “Kyu-Bon” in Okinawa and celebrated for three days according to the lunar calendar from 13-15th of July
Source: The Ryukyu Shimpo
What do they do for Kyu-Bon?
“Unkeh” is the first day of the festival, where family members will set a bonfire and welcome their ancestors to the butsudan (family alter). On this day, family members will eat Okinawan style seasoned rice dish called “jushi”. The reason for cooking this rice dish is because they have been told that
“Even if you lose your loved one and feeling grieved, never forget your gratitude. Treat everyone by cooking the rice dish.”
*Various flavors are available and recommended for souvenirs too!
On the second day “Nakanuhi”, three meals are offered on the butsudan alter and all family relatives will eat the same meal and spend time with the spirits of ancestors. On this day, local people pay respects to their ancestors by visiting other relatives’ homes and pray at the family alters. Also, visiting families must have a meal at every visiting home so it is quite hard work.
The last day of Kyu-Bon is “Ukui”, the day of saying farewell to the ancestors and escort them back to the heavens. During the ceremony, family members will burn special paper money called “uchikabi” for the ancestors to use it in the spirit world. They also burn some offerings in case ancestors encounter evil spirits on the way home.
Some says that small children point to the sky saying “Look, grandma is going back”.
As you see, Unkeh Ukui (Kyu-Bon) is an important day to remember and thank ancestors for the life you have now, and it’s a great opportunity to get together as “family”.
A special section in the supermarkets that is unique to Okinawa
During the season of Kyu-Bon, AEON and MaxValu stores in Okinawa will set up a special sales section to prepare for the festival. There are many items that you won’t get to see in other regions of Japan, and each has a meaning.
Circular ropes are for ancestors to take foods back to their world by balancing fruits on their heads.
Long sugarcane is used as a walking stick when ancestors arrive and return to their world. In mainland Japan, it is said that ancestors travel by riding a horse or cow, but Okinawan ancestors travel on foot!
It is said that ancestors use Alocasia leaves to wrap souvenirs to take back home.
All fruits that come out during this season are not ripe yet because they are used as offerings at the butsudan altars and they’ll be ripened by the time the ancestors taking them back home. So, just to remind you that most of them can’t be eaten straight away!
(Image: top-right)*Many fruits have a note saying “This is for the Obon offerings. Not ready to eat yet.”
It symbolizes “money” and are delivered by burning them to the air. It is said that one paper money is worth 20 million yen in the spirit world and believed that the more money they have in the afterlife, the better.Reminder!
This plant is used as chopsticks for ancestors.
Okinawan Kyu-Bon Cuisine—Usanmi
“Usanmi”, meaning “Three kinds of feasts”, is a type of offering that originated in China, which is dedicated to the gods. The dishes are made of ingredients from “the sky, the earth and the sea” and are packed in square boxes. It normally contains nine dishes: savory-sweet fish cake, red-white fish cake, fried tofu, tempura, fried taro, kelp, burdock root, konnyaku and pork.
In Okinawa, Kyu-Bon is considered as a “celebration” rather than a “memorial service” so the contents of usanmi offering is a little different. For example, “red” is a lucky color so the fish cake is in red, and the kelp is in a knot because it has the meaning of “tying the knot”.
Usanmi (one box filled with white mochi, another box filled with dishes) is normally prepared and offered on the butsudan alter, and another same set is served in the living room for the family members to eat the same offering as the ancestors.
In Japanese expression, “To eat from the same rice bowl” has a similar meaning to an English saying, “To drink of the same cup.” It is an expression to indicate a strong bond continuing between families even after ancestors’ passing away.
If you happen to visit Okinawa during the “Unkeh Ukui” season, you can try usanmi cuisine from Okinawa’s AEON or MaxValu stores with your family or loved ones.