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Thursday, August 14, 2008

The O-Bon Yasumi

お盆休み

It’s O-Bon season in Japan. This is the time of year when souls of the dead are said to return to the family home, and, traditionally, people return to the family home to pray for those souls’ repose.

And, sure enough, Tokyo is pretty deserted this week, especially today. My cycle ride to work this morning was a rather eerie experience, what with the almost silent streets that, being almost free of cars and trucks, seemed much wider and longer.

The Japanese word for holiday/break is yasumi. It is therefore very easy to ask people about whether and when they'll be off by asking, for example:
Ashita (tomorrow) wa (marking the subject “ashita”) yasumi (holiday) desu ka (question tag)?

Ashita wa yasumi desu ka.
(Is tomorrow a holiday?/Are you on holiday tomorrow?)

Or, instead of tomorrow, asatte (the day after tomorrow), or raishuu (next week).

Another, more sophisticated, way of expressing the idea of a holiday or break is the Chinese reading of the character for yasumi, which is kyuu. It can be used as a shorthand for yasumi, but only in conjunction with another character.

For example, the Chinese character for “facility” or “hall” is pronounced kan. You’ll see it at the end of words like toshokan (library), or taiikukan (gymnasium), or eigakan (cinema). Therefore, if you want to ask if a facility is going to be closed, you can use the word kyuukan. "Ashita wa kyuukan desu ka?" (Will this place be closed tomorrow?)

The Chinese reading of the Japanese word tsuzuku,“to continue,” is ren. So the shorthand renkyuu expresses “continuing holidays," or, in more normal English, “consecutive holidays”. O-bon, being four days - August 13 to 16 - is a renkyuu.

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