Japan’s Obon Festival of the Dead

Japan’s Obon Festival of the Dead

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Japanese Obon Festival lanterns

Japanese Obon Festival lanterns


Obon is held on or around the 15th of July or August and is an event in which families and relatives gather to hold a memorial service to welcome the spirits of their deceased ancestors. The word Bon is said to be an abbreviation of the name for the Ghost Festival, which came across from China. The feast of Lanterns is an event held to save the spirits of deceased parents and ancestors from suffering. This event was brought over to Japan and together with the Japanese custom of ancestor worship, Obon in its current incarnation came to be held in the Edo Period. It is thought that at Obon, ancestral spirits come back from the afterlife and then return to it. 

Brief Schedule of Obon Festival
Obon was originally held around July 15th of the lunar calendar, but after the introduction of the solar calendar, in Tokyo, it came to be held July 13~16, and in many other regions, it became August 13~16. Although the details of Obon vary depending on region, let’s talk about some common customs. On the 13th, lanterns are lit to welcome the ancestral spirits back to the home. The fire of these lights shows the spirits the location of the home. On the 14th and 15th, time is spent with the ancestral spirits. Offerings of food are laid at the household Buddhist altar for the returning ancestral spirits. On the 16th, the departure lamps are lit, and through these lanterns, the spirits depart. Here are some main customs that may help you understood truly Japanese culture.


五山の送り火 | 京都駅近,午後8時点火


It is one of the most famous traditional activities in Japan. Generally, people will take this activity as a ceremony which can invite all the ancestor’s souls back to the Elysion. In the evening, Burning firewood will be formed into different kinds of text shape on 5 famous mountains in Kyoto. It takes1 hours to finish preparation. Generally, In the evening of August 13, people will make a small fire which is so-called 「迎火」, It means people will greet to ghosts via lighting a fire. After that, people will put all kinds of foods on the top of the shed, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables and so on. When it comes to the end, on the evening of August 16, the fire will be lighted again which is so-called saying farewells to ghosts. People will ignite fire near the door, or just ignite a fire on the mountain or at the beach.

Japanese Obon Festival dance

Japanese Obon Festival dance


Another custom is the Bon Dance that is performed at Obon. A watchtower is raised in a square, and people then dance around it in time with the beating of the drum on the turret. While originally it was a ritual dance for the memorial service in which the spirits are welcomed, these days with booths lined up, it feels like a festival. There are regional variations of the Obon Dance. One famous version is the Awa Dance. Legend has it that this ritual is to imitate the ghosts who escaped from hell. Today, the ritual is not considered as a religious activity, but it is more entertaining.

Eggplants and Cucumbers in Obon

Eggplants and Cucumbers in Obon


The spirits ride a horse and a cow to travel back and forth. At Obon, cucumber, eggplant, and disposable chopsticks are used to create figures of the horse and cow, which are then put on display. The cucumber represents the horse, and the eggplant represents the cow. Ridding on a horse means to come home quickly, and ridding on a cow means go back slowly. Anyway, Obon is not just a religious event held to honor the ancestral spirits, it has also taken on a greater meaning as a national holiday. Do you know the phrase “it’s like Obon and New Year’s both came at once!”? Because Obon and new years are both busy, enjoyable times when families gather together, this phrase is used to refer to busy times filled with happiness.


Traffic Situation
Above is a general overview of the Japanese Bon Festival, Does it appeal to you to travel to Japan? Actions speak louder than words! Here’s one tip you should know: In 2019, the peak of the Obon travel season is anticipated to take place between August 10 and August 18. That means the heavy traffic and streets which jam-packed with people will be an inevitable fact. So You’d better prepare a commuting guide before you go to Japan.



http://bit.ly/2KOnzcp    Guide to the Obon Festival 2019 in Japan

https://on.natgeo.com/2L03Yq7  Picture Stories of the Obon Festival

http://bit.ly/2KCDrPo  京都五山送り火 開催日:Aug, 16, 2019


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