Bon Boats for Souls (shooryoobune)

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Ships for the Souls (shooryoobune)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Early August
***** Category: Observance


One of the customs of the Bon Festival (o-bon) .

On the last day of the festival, on August 15 (in some areas on the 16th), people preapare little boats of wheat straw (mugigara 麦殻) or reeds and load the offered figures of horses made of eggplants and cucumbers (nasu no uma 茄子の馬 uri no uma 瓜の馬、oxen of eggplants 茄子の牛, oxen of cucumbers 胡瓜の牛、uri no ushi 瓜の牛) from the Bon shelf (bondana), together with the Bon Flowers (bonbana) and some rice cakes on them.
See also : Eggplant Horse decorations

These little boats are then set afloat on a local river, lake or the seashore. A small candle burns for the whole family on the shore to watch their boat. It is quite a sorrowful moment, when the ship falls over or the candle burns out and the souls of the ancestors are on their way to the other world again.

In some areas like Nagasaki really big boats are send off on these days.


Other kigo for this event:

ships for the blessed souls
..... shooryoobune (shoryobune) 精霊船

Bon-Ship, bonbune 盆舟
sending-off ship, okuribune 送船
Lantern-Ship, tooroobune 燈篭船
straw ship, mugigarabune 麦殻船

Gabi Greve


Lafcadio Hearn about this custom

Though during a week the sky has remained unclouded, the sea has for several days been growing angrier; and now the muttering of its surf sounds far into the land. They say that it always roughens thus during the period of the Festival of the Dead--the three days of the Bon, which are the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of the seventh month by the ancient calendar.
And on the sixteenth day, after the shoryobune, which are the Ships of Souls, have been launched, no one dares to enter it: no boats can then be hired; all the fishermen remain at home. For on that day the sea is the highway of the dead, who must pass back over its waters to their mysterious home; and therefore upon that day is it called
Hotoke-umi--the Buddha-Flood--the Tide of the Returning Ghosts.

And ever upon the night of that sixteenth day--whether the sea be calm or tumultuous--all its surface shimmers with faint lights gliding out to the open,--the dim fires of the dead; and there is heard a murmuring of voices, like the murmur of a city far-off,--the indistinguishable speech
of souls.

Read more of this book here:

Read Gabi Greve about Lafcadio Hearn



Almost a real boat ! August 15.

.. .. .. .. ..

Nagasaki Event with Fireworks
seireinagashi 精霊流し

..................... More Links

Tottori, shaurabune 精霊船(しゃうらぶね)


With some music

Worldwide use

Things found on the way

A Soul Boat for a lost Pet Dog

On sale here:

And a link about a cat boat


長崎で 色とりどりの 精霊船 
Nagasaki de iro toridori no shooryoobune

at Nagasaki
made of all colors,
the boats for the dead

(Tr. Gabi Greve)

Nishidomari Middle School


shooryoobune yori shima no ko no oyogidasu

from the boat for the souls
children of the island
start swimming back
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

須藤靖子Tottori, Sufuji Yasuko

In some areas it is custom to have small children on the boat, while it drifts off to a nearby island. When the light boat starts to sink, the kids hop into the water and swim back to the shore, where their parents and villagers are waiting and cheering.

Related words

***** Bon Festival (o-bon)

***** Eggplant Horse decorations (nasu no uma 茄子の馬)


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

boats with the bounty
for Buddhas ~ a butterfly
on the rice-cake

Narayanan Raghunathan