The second and third days of Obon

Note: One of the more difficult things to do is to pin down exactly when this festival actually is.  Some parts of the country list it as “August 15.”  Others list it as “July 15.”  The difference comes from whether or not you follow the old Lunar calendar.

Now, I started these entries with the idea that one of the festival dates was August 15 in the Tokyo area, which logically should mean the last day of Obon would be on the 17th.  But Japan Talk lists it as ending on August 15!

So here I am, a little late to the party, but there are other years and perhaps one day I’ll get to celebrate the festival in Japan itself.

On the second day of Obon, the party really gets started.  There is dancing and drumming and good food and games.  It’s a colorful, summery event.

Per this article from the Huffington Post:

“The second day of Obon is spent celebrating the spirits’ homecoming. Towns build stages in the center, where dancers perform the Bon Odori, or traditional Obon dance. Although this dance varies regionally, it’s usually accompanied by traditional Japanese drums. Along the stage, booths of Japanese treats, games, and shops provide a festival-like atmosphere. Since Obon occurs in summer, many attendees wear traditional yukatas (light-weight kimonos).”

Sounds like fun to me!

For another perspective, and lots of great pictures, here’s an article from Japan Talk:

https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/obon

Also, here’s a wonderful blog called Just One Cookbook, and the dedicated page for summer festival foods!  The instructions are great, so maybe you’ll want to try one soon.

https://www.justonecookbook.com/japanese-summer-festival-foods/

The last day of Obon

This is the day when the famous floating of the lanterns happens.  In many parts of Japan this now happens in ponds with no outlet, rather than on the rivers.  This is done for environmental reasons, but in the places where lanterns are floated down the rivers, it’s a truly beautiful sight.  See the two articles above for more details.

As the lanterns float away, spirits of beloved family members are bid a fond farewell, until the next year.

The first day of Obon

Obon, the Japanese festival of Souls, is one that I try to do a better job of observing every year.  It contains a lot of meaning that resonates with me and that only increases as more of my loved ones pass from the mortal realm.  This is a solemn but joyous festival that marks a time when beloved spirits are able to reunite with their families.

Three friends of mine have moved on this year, one I enjoyed talking to and worked with, one I was inspired by, and one who I loved as my own daughter.  So in my own way of honoring the Obon tradition, I will be posting links to good articles about it and making my own suggestions of ways to celebrate it.

Other names for Obon are the Ghost Festival and the Lantern Festival.

I have a couple of links with more information and will continue to post more.  I hope you enjoy them!

My first article comes from the Huffington Post contributor section and gives a good overview of what is done on each day.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/celebrating-obon_b_5991ab53e4b0ed1f464c0c88

In the days before Obon, the house is cleaned, flowers are arranged for beloved dead, lanterns are bought or made, and figurines are made out of eggplants, cucumbers, and disposable chopsticks.  Four disposable chopsticks are stuck into a cucumber to make a horse to symbolize the spirits coming quickly to the home, and the same is done with an eggplant to make a cow to symbolize the spirits leaving slowly.  I find this tradition very cute and a little funny.

From Haikugirl's blog.PNG
Borrowed from Haikugirl’s blog, click to go there

Here’s a short article about the horses and cows:

Obon – horses and cows?

From the Huffington Post article:

The first day of Obon is spent welcoming ancestral spirits home. Families place offerings of fruit, rice, green tea, sake and lotus-shaped sweets at the graves or family altars. Paper lanterns are hung round the house to help guide the spirits home. Some families carry lanterns from the graves back to their homes.

 

Some ideas about how to celebrate the first day of Obon:

Check out Youtube videos and articles about the festival

Visit a grave of someone you care about, and bring flowers

Light candles or lanterns and put them in the window

Hang paper lanterns

Tell happy stories about people who are gone

Display photos of people who have passed away, so you can see them and smile

As we near Obon, her presence remains

Katzenworld recently featured a tribute to Nezumi, Honored Eternal Webmistress of this blog, and Queen of my heart.   When in flesh, she was a delightful calico girl who was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

Her ashes lie in a smooth, polished black box with he name on it, with her pawprint and a picture near.

And yet, her spirit isn’t gone.  Her spiritual father, Orion, of whom I have also written, still walks on the bed even though he left his flesh behind nearly ten years ago.

As for Nezumi, our other cat Shinji will sometimes stare at the empty air – or at the shelf where her ashes are kept.

Every once in a while I’ll feel her fur against my ankles or see an orange, black and white shadow flit by.

Neither has left me, and they both have my eternal loyalty, as I (apparently do) and it makes me feel peaceful.

I used to wonder if ghosts existed – I began to doubt it seriously – and then it was proven to me by my own cat-friends.  They made their presence impossible to ignore and they show themselves to both my spouse and I.  They are neither harmful nor destructive, and they come and go as they please.  Our bond is far from broken!  I personally think cats make great ghosts – mine did as they pleased when they were alive, so why not do the same once freed of their flesh?

I told Nezumi as that she could go or stay as she pleased, and that I would love her unceasingly.  It was the last thing she heard me say.

I still miss her – but I’m so glad she, and Orion, still choose to visit me.

So that’s why she’s Eternal Webmistress, the same way that Tama, the Japanese train stationmistress who just happened to be a calico, became Eternal Stationmistress upon her death.

In Japan, some celebrate Obon, (the festival of the dead) in mid-July, and some in mid-August, but in either case it’s a joyous chance to reunite with beloved family members who have passed from mortal life.  It’s not a somber occasion but a time to celebrate and have fun.  So I think often of my two well-loved cats as that festival nears.

When it comes time, I’ll light two lanterns for them and watch them floating in the pool and meditate on the fact that we are more than our bodies, we are luminous beings, not just crude matter.

 

floating lanterns.jpg

The passing of Nezumi

Our longtime site mascot, Nezumi, has passed from the mortal realm.

In other stories about her, I’ve told how she found us as a tiny injured kitten who was driven away by her mother.  I’ve told how she grew into a fine figure of a queen cat, nurtured by the loyal Orion.  I’ve also told of how we lost Orion and how she carried on with us.  She even wrote a few blog entries on this site.  She was a wonderful girl, a staunch family member, often hilarious, and always lovable.  Lately, her health has been failing and we’ve finally lost our final battle.

It started a few months ago when she started becoming even pickier than usual and we thought there was a problem with her mouth.  She started drooling and rubbing her mouth on things, so it made sense.  We also wondered if she had a hairball that wouldn’t come up.

The vet found a mass near her intestines, but since it wasn’t blocking anything we thought she might be okay.  Perhaps the mass would be benign, perhaps we could encourage her to eat, perhaps we could control the swelling with steroids and find out it was just IBD.  We did blood work, got good news on her organ function.

We got a bit of a reprieve – for a time she seemed to be getting better.  Then she took a turn for the worse.  Back to the vet.  The news was bad.  So we changed our strategy and just focused on keeping her comfortable.  A couple weeks passed.  Her normal meow changed to a little squawk, she lost her coordination, but she still loved attention and would ask to be picked up so she could be near us.  I still saw a soul behind her eyes.  Normally so gentle, she covered my arms with inadvertent scratches and I find now that I want to rub ink into them so I can wear them forever.  Her sweet face and personality created instant love from the first moment I saw her as a tiny waiflike kitten.

That was why it was so hard to have to schedule her end – however, we both agreed that she should go when she still had some dignity left, instead of us selfishly trying to eke the last drops of life out until she passed away in pain and terror.  I also scheduled an appointment with a crematorium for shortly after her last vet visit.

I had to take a Benadryl last night so I could sleep, and still sat up petting her.  My tears were a river that has still not run dry.  In the morning I gave her some brushing, which she loves, and offered her broth for breakfast – which she wouldn’t touch.  She kept patting me and looking into my eyes.   When it was time we took her to our vet.  The assistant laid her on a blue and white Southwestern blanket to make her comfortable.  The vet gave her one more exam to make sure nothing had improved, and then we said goodbye.  Shortly after, Nezumi was gone.  I felt a cool wind blow through me, around that time, though for the life of me I can’t remember exactly when.

The people at Tucson Pet Cemetery were very kind.  The office lady was quiet yet compassionate, neither adding nor detracting from our grief.  The office cat, a fat, bob-tailed Cymric cat, offered cuddles, headbonks, and purring.  She went over the options with us, not trying to upsell but just responding to our questions.   We placed Nezumi on a sort of table under a window, in a shaded room with comfortable chairs so we could say our final farewells.

I find that as sad as this all was, I couldn’t ask for a better end myself.  I hope that when the time for my end comes, I can meet it in peace, with my family around me.  We’ll make a place in the yard for her ashes and set up a cat statue in her memory.  I know that she’s beyond all pain now, and I hope she’s met up with Orion so he can show her the ropes of being a spirit being.

For now, we’ll comfort Shinji as he’s an only cat, yet again.  He’s seen a lot of people die and so we want to be gentle with him.

 

when I feel you’re gone,

my heart pours out misogi

waterfall of tears.

 

doorway-crop-1000

 

The Haunted Mission

The picture above is not from my camera.   Read on, and you’ll find out why.

But first, a little background.

San Xavier is a very old and famous Spanish Catholic mission, the oldest European structure in America.  Though the original mission was established in 1692, the current church dates back to the 1780s and was built by the local Tohono O’odham tribe.  The Wikipedia article (link) gives a good accounting of its history.

Last year, my mother and I went there to see the place.  She has an interest in architecture and was raised Catholic, so it was a meaningful trip for her.  I was curious if I might sense something but wasn’t expecting anything in particular.

When we got there, I realized that I’d forgotten my camera in the car.  It’s a low-end Nikon, not a camera attached to a phone.  I think she uses a Canon but hers is a bit simpler than mine.  I went back to get it.  Now, my camera was working fine until this point and had fresh batteries, the kind that let you test them.  I decided to take a picture of the cross on top of a low hill near the Mission, the same hill where some of the stone for building was taken from.

As I focused on the hill, the camera retracted the lens and shut off.  I turned it on again and again the same thing happened.  I could never get the camera to focus on the hill or anything else in the area.  The only time the lens retracts like that is when the light is bad, or when the batteries are dying, and neither of those things were the case.  It also didn’t give me its usual low battery warning.  My Mom’s camera didn’t have a problem, though she didn’t try to use it in that parking lot.

I gave up on the camera and went inside.

Inside the mission itself, I found the sanctuary a rather interesting place.  Paintings of saints and such were everywhere and the old wooden seats were intact.  I’m not sure if they were original but they were definitely old!  I felt a heavy feeling as I walked around in there, looking at the art.  After a time I was a bit light headed and also felt somewhat uncomfortable.  I spoke quietly to any spirits who might be hanging around, letting them know I was here with peaceful intent.  Around this time I began to be aware of an emotional weight as well, and I also felt something like a vibration throughout my body.  Tears started to well up also even though I hadn’t been feeling particularly sad.  My mind was a bit foggy as well.  The general impression I get when thinking about those few minutes is dimness, and heaviness.

In case it wasn’t just psychic background count, or stored emotion in this old place, I spoke again to the spirits, letting them know that if they were afraid to move on, they need not be, that they were free.  My mother seemed to feel something as well but it was difficult to put into words.

The moment I left the sanctuary and went out into clear air, the heaviness went away, my head cleared, the vibrations stopped, and the emotional sensations also left me.

I’ve done a bit of research and have found two legends about San Xavier.  One describes an old padre who wanders the church at sunrise and sunset, and the other tells of a nun and five children who died in a fire as the nun was leading them to safety.  One person on a hauntings website tells of a heavy feeling, and another says the place is very haunted but isn’t specific about how.  I don’t think I sensed the padre or the nun and children.  My impression was that either I was sensing the strong emotion of all the people who prayed in that sanctuary, each leaving their own imprint like finger-marks on a long-unwashed doorway, or perhaps it was a collection of spirits who hadn’t moved on.  I personally have a thought that sometimes people might pass from this life but not be able to move on because they fear condemnation or eternal suffering, and so they might get stuck.  So when I feel anything like a spirit who might be stuck like that it’s my practice to tell them that they are cared about and that they are free to go where they will, in case no one told them before.

I still don’t entirely know what I felt, but I did undeniably feel something.  My imagination just isn’t that good!

Aloof Cats

“Cats are aloof.”

“Cats are anti-social.”

“Your cat doesn’t really love you, they just want food.”

“Cats are spiteful.”

“Cats are merciless.”

——-

Balogna.

Utter, sheer, unmitigated, balogna.

Hogwash.

Poppycock.

Rubbish.

Nonsense!

 

As I write this, the primary cat who owns me, keeps patting my arm to remind me she’s there.  She likes to just hang out near by when I’m doing things, rather than going off and sleeping by herself.  She’s not a lap cat, but rather a sit near you cat.  She’s very loving and the feeling has always been mutual for us.

Do cats love?  They do  – very deeply at times – and if you learn to look and listen and observe, you’ll see that.  For example – when a cat is gazing at you and giving you that slow blink, that means “I trust you.”  And sometimes “I love you.”  You can see their love with body language and facial expression, and by how much time they want to spend hear you.  They also grieve very deeply and they remember their lost friends quite well at times.

Some are going to say “cats are just animals, they don’t have feelings.”  Lately, though, it’s been discovered that though smaller than a human’s brain, a cat’s brain matches about 90 percent of the structures we have, especially in the emotional centers.  What’s more, a cat’s face has many muscles that exist for the purpose of making expressions.  So when your cat seems to be smiling at you, they really are, and when they look sad, they probably are.  It’s not anthropomorphism to say this, those behaviors have been observed and confirmed.

Cats get a bad reputation though because they aren’t groveling sycophants.  They are deemed untrainable because you have to motivate them properly for them to decide to do what you are asking.  I’ve gotten my cat to sit, even lie down on command, but it’s plain that she’s deciding to agree to my request, not giving me a rote response.

They can be incredibly intelligent – I knew a cat who would use bottle caps as containers to carry things in, and would eat his dry food only after picking it up with his paw.  I knew another who ran away from her mother, crossing two yards with big dogs in them, so she could be with the only house who would offer her help – that is, us.  How did she know that?  We’d never met her before.  And yet, she knew just where to go at a bare few months of age.  I have played long games of “boop the nose” with Nezumi, where we’ll take turns booping each other’s noses.  She can tell time to some extend.  I’ll say “not yet, in an hour Nezumi,” and sure enough she’ll come back for whatever she wanted… in an hour.  I and many others could go on and on.

A cat will choose if they want to be part of a relationship and they’re pretty hard to bribe.  However, once a cat has decided your’e pretty okay as people go, it can be a beautiful experience.  They will be loyal with you and the experience will be incredibly special.

 

Nezumi and Shinji 4-19.JPG

To all the Mothers – and Kitty Mothers – out there

Today’s your day!

It takes a tremendous amount of grit to be any kind of a parent.  To those who have stuck by their kids, through thick and thin, protecting them from harm, putting up with illnesses and whining, and trying to teach them the good things in life, I salute you.  Similarly, to those cat parents who support their furry kids through smooth times and rough, I salute you too.  It also takes determination, love, and often some heartache.

It means that like a wildflower’s roots, you must sometimes search for scarce resources and nevertheless make something bloom.

It means deciding that that tiny child – or kitten – is more important than your own comfort.  That your child’s happiness is your happiness.

It can be a huge struggle, especially with a human child, but every mother I know has told me it’s worth it.

To everyone who takes on that challenge, Happy Mother’s Day!

Here’s a picture of our sweet calico when she was tiny, shortly after she rescued herself and came to us, and a bouquet of wildflowers for all the Moms out there.  And yes… that includes my own!

Pix030

wildflowers 1200