Last night I was told I was officially an Okinawan. By my neighbor, Mika, who was, at the time, getting nice and drunk on the beer that I give out during every Obon Festival in my neighborhood. I think it was something to do with how long I have been in the village of Kitanakagusuku (6 1/2 years) and the fact that I have a mild suspicion of mainlanders and differentiate between Okinawans and Japanese. Also I give out free beer. So I am sure that helps. Whatever the case may be, I’ll take it. Being considered part of the village is important to me. I know I will always stick out like a sore thumb with my every changing wild hair and height and general American-ness, but to be included is always a nice thing wherever you live. Especially when you are different.
Obon was really fantastic this year. For those of you who are not officially Okinawan I will explain. You see Obon is the Japanese festival of the dead where the ancestors are invited back to the homes of their living relatives. It is a 3 day affair with a welcoming dinner the first night, a huge block party with Eisa dancers and music and loads of drinking on the second night and a farewell ceremony on the third. Now in Japan proper this always falls on the same scheduled night but Okinawans, being a little more rural and mystical, celebrate on the full moon, so you can just imagine what antics people get up to. I really wanted to do it up this year and I got fitted for a yakuza (summer kimono) specially and planned with my friend Laura to really go to town on the booze cruise of the evening.
It happened to be that my poor husband was admitted to the hospital a week prior and I had spent most of my time there or thinking about that and suddenly Obon was upon us and I felt tremendous guilt that he could, again, not partake in the festivities. But holy Obon miracle, Batman! He just HAPPENED to make a recovery and was released several hours before the town started painting itself red! Although too weak to walk the parade route and forbidden from drinking, he still stood quietly on our veranda and enjoyed watching as the dancers and drummers frivolously banged past.
I, naturally, took to the streets, with a fairly inebriated Laura in tow, giant bags stuffed with beer cans over both our shoulders, following the procession from my house to the end of the road where they always go to rest and turn around. This is where the beer gifting goes on. I love it. My favorite part. People who have been dancing for hours in the hot Okinawa summer get surprised by this wacky American handing them booze! Of course my neighbors have come to expect it. I am called Bieru-san, which translates loosely to Beer Lady or Miss Beer. It’s really fun. Everyone is happy and laughing and having a really good party. It’s a bit like 4th of July in the states. With ghosts.
As for the ghosts, my house was hopping with activity from that morning when I discovered several of my collection of “lucky kitties” to be turned facing the wall. I discovered this only after being awakened by thundering footsteps in my solitarily inhabited house. This is not a new occurrence and in some ways I feel like my house is like the jumping off place for ghosts to pre-game before heading out into the night. One fantastic year my husband and I were on the sofa, watching tv and waiting to hear the music coming up the street to signal the start of the party, when my computer just suddenly turned itself on, went to youtube and started playing some Japanese movie from the 60s that neither of us had ever seen or heard of. We calmly poured a shot of rum into a glass, placed it on the table, in front of the computer and walked out to the street only to discover, a few hours later, my laptop all nicely shut down. The rum was untouched, but the computer certainly had been used and politely put away. Maybe that particular spirit wasn’t into spirits.
My mamasan says that my house is OBVIOUSLY perfect for all the spirits as we sit in the center of a pentacle of tombs. We are, literally, surrounded by the dead. It’s not uncommon for kitchen cabinets to open on their own, things to move about the place, and the footsteps are pretty damn prevalent. My friend, Daisy, stayed with us for almost a month and I remember the first time she experienced the footsteps. I am not sure if she slept much that night and I am certain she dove into the wine ASAP. To me, I just think of them as roommates. We coexist. Mostly I barely notice them but my guests always get a little shock. I’ve always been a believer in the supernatural and have lived in my fair share of haunted houses but I have to say that, for the most part, my experiences here are single-handedly amazing and tame. No Amityville Horror here. Just a bunch of Caspers.
What I love is that this Okinawan culture is so accepting of hauntings and ghosts as a REAL thing. And THAT is why I love Obon. Not only are they like “Ghosts are real” they INVITE the fuckers in, throw them a three day party and make it a NATIONAL HOLIDAY!
Yeah….I am definitely an Okinawan.