Souvenirs NOT to buy in July

O-bon lamp for sale in Inari-cho
Beautiful, right? So summery!

The ultimate souvenir not only reminds you of the place where you bought it, it also reminds you of the joys of being in Japan during that season. Which is why you might be tempted to bring home one of these lovely handpainted flower lamps that are only sold during July and August.

O-bon lamps for sale in Inari-cho
And there are so many different flowers to choose from! You’ll be tempted to buy some Xmas prezzies, while you’re at it
O-bon lamps for sale in Inari-cho
I mean, why not? There’s a style to blend with every decor

But there’s a reason these are only sold during the summertime. July and August are when the Japanese celebrate O-bon, the three days a year when ancestral spirits return to check that the family graves are being kept in tip-top shape, and are remembered extra-fondly by family members offering them food and drink (and cigarettes) on the family home altar. But newbie spirits—those of loved ones who passed away since last O-bon—need a little help finding their way back to the family manse from the Great Beyond. These lamps are lit and set outside the door to guide them home.

So, uh, unless you want to advertise “come one, come all!” to all your local ghosts, it’s probably a good idea to give these pretty lamps a miss.

Okay, so, no lamps. But what about these nice tea caddies?

Ashes urns for sale in Inari-cho
So many styles, and even a few that might appeal to golfing, baseball-loving, tea-drinking dads!

Only…these aren’t for tea. They’re for ashes. Yeah, those kind of ashes. Now that many Japanese families have moved away from their ancestral (and usually rural) temples, and are split up in cities all over the country, it’s becoming popular to divide a loved one’s ashes up between family members instead of keeping them all in the same (far away) family tomb. That way, ancestors can be honored, visited and consulted without a big trip to the heartland.

They even make super-portable shrines, for those who travel a lot.

Picture frame with ashes urns for sale in Inari-cho
So, uh, before you pick up a nice picture frame to bring back for mom and dad, be sure it doesn’t accommodate an ihai after-death name tablet and a pair of mini-urns

If you’d like to see these for yourself the next time you’re in Tokyo in the summertime, there’s a whole neighborhood called Inari-cho where they sell them! It’s a super-interesting stroll, and is conveniently next to Kappabashi Street, the renowned kitchenware and plastic food district.

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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