by Emmanuel Ezrou
The Obon Festival (Chinese 盆, also called Festival Bon) is an annual Japanese festival to commemorate deceased ancestors. It is believed that their spirits return to visit their loved ones during this time. Chochin lanterns (paper lanterns) are hung to guide the spirits and Obon dances (Bon Odori) are performed. Families gather and visit the graves of their loved ones and make food offerings at altars and temples. It is celebrated from the 13th to 15th of the 7th month. However, according to the solar calendar, the seventh month is July, while according to the lunar calendar, the seventh month is August. Therefore, Obon is celebrated at different times in different regions depending on the calendar. The official date is August 13th to 15th, although in some places it is celebrated between July 13th and 15th. Obon Week in mid-August is one of the three most important holidays in Japan, making it one of the busiest times of the year for travelers. Many Japanese will leave their city around August 10th and return on August 17th and 18th.
Obon Traditions and Celebrations
On the first day of Obon, people carry Chochin lanterns to family graves. They call the spirits of their ancestors home in a ritual called Mukae-Bon. In some areas, huge bonfires are lit at the entrances of houses to allow the
ghosts entry. At the end of the Obon festival, families help the spirits of their ancestors return to the grave by guiding them with Chochin lanterns. The ritual is called Okuri-Bon. Here too, the ritual varies slightly depending on the region of Japan.
Floating Lanterns (Toro Nagashi)
In recent years, floating lanterns (Toro Nagashi) have become increasingly popular. Beautiful lanterns float on the river that flows into the sea to symbolically send the spirits of ancestors to heaven, although customs vary
from region to region.
The traditional Bon Odori dance style varies regionally but is generally based on the rhythms of Japanese taiko drums. Dancers perform on a Yagura stage and participants wear light cotton kimonos. Everyone is invited to take part in the dances, which take place in parks, temples, and other public places throughout Japan.