What is folklore studies all about?

In historical science, we read history through literature. Though, in historiy before the Middle Ages, what remain in the literature are mainly written by rulers and people related to Buddhism and there are few written by common folks.
Also, history catches things mainly through large events, and it does not direct spotlight on how ordinary people felt in everyday lives, how they held the yearly events.

For example, there is a large movement in political economy, but our lives, fashion, entertainments, and events don’t necessarily synchronize with it, and I think it is difficult to make an analogy from political records.

From these backgrounds, folklore studies were born to search the customs of the common people of Ancient Japan.

The approach of folklore studies

There is a wide variety in the approach of folklore studies, and we can enumerate largely the following.
1. Give meaning to the traditional customs and festivals and things of localities that remain in the modern times through hearings to people that live there, the life history of them and digest them to a large framework by comparing with similar things in other places.

2. Especially, make an analogy of the context of things that are symbolically given meaning to accompanied by religious faith, and form a hypothesis of how they were established in the ancient days.

Kunio Yanagita largely contributed to the establishment of this type of folklore studies, and scholars like Shinobu Orikuchi were influenced by it and created their original forms.

Arrangement of Bon Odori (dance) from folklore interpretation.

Regarding Bon Dancing, starting the story from Nembutsu Odori and Urabon-e would be the ordinary approach from historical science point of view. Though there are contents like the following and folkloristic approach will be necessary.

1. The spirit of the ancestors come back in the Bon Period (Middle of August)

There are not this kind of idea in Urabon, so it can be considered that it merged with Ancient Japanese customs.
Kunio Yanagita says that originally, the events to invite the spirits of the ancestors, namely the ancestor’s festivals, the spirit’s festival were in the New Year and the period of Bon. (Story by the ancestors)

Orikuchi Shinobu took a stance that festivals in Bon in ancient times was a period to switch the spirits, and a resuscitation ritual that is in the middle of the year. He does not sort the spirits alive and spirits dead, and he assumed that it was a period to invite them alike. (A story of Bon Dancing)

2. Bon Dance became a place for the men and women to meet and have relation with each other

Originally, there was not this kind of factor in Urabon and Nembutsu Odori (Buddhist prayer dance). Kunio Yanagita presumes that the occation of men and women to meet in the spring mountain hiking moved to the period of Bon by shifting the time. (Things about mountain hiking)

Shinobu Orikuchi considers that the custom of miscellaneous marriage that many men and women have relationship have accompanied because they slept together in a huddle in a holy place to protect themselves from horrible spirits. Customs like Utagaki, which men and women gather and court, love each other by songs is not exactly the direct line but have distant relationship with Bon Odori (dance) said Orikuchi. (Bon Odori and Festival Stalls)

3.Is Obon a Buddhist event after all?

It is shown that Obon existed from the ancient times, and there is a possibility that it was accidentally explained later by Urabon.

Kunio Yanagita guesses that it would be premature to say that “Bon” is an abbreviation of Urabon, instead Japanese word “Boni” a nickname for a vessel was applied. (A story of an ancestor)

4. A fusion of Obon and dance

There were no customs to dance in Urabon-e. Then why did it get together?

Shinobu Orikuchi organizes that Nembutsu Odori (Buddhist prayer dance) was danced to exorcize the evil spirits which come together with the good spirits during the Soul Festival. In the occasion of Obon, they celebrated Soul Festival at home, and outside, they exorcized the unrelated vengeful ghosts. From these reasons, he considered that Obon and dance got together. (The story of Bon Dance)