Obon

Obon or Bon is more than 500 years old Japanese Buddhist tradition honouring the ancestors' spirits. It is also a time of family reunions. Families visit and clean their ancestors' graves. Obon is also known as the Feast of Lanterns.

The festival of Obon lasts for three days. It is organized on different dates. Why? In the Meiji era (1868-1912), when whole Japanese society was transformed, the Gregorian calendar replaced the lunar one. Japanese regions did not except it all at the same time. That is why there are three different times of year when the Obon is celebrated. All three of them are based on the lunar calendar.

"Shichigatsu Bon" (Bon in July) is celebrated around the 15th of July in the areas like Tokyo, Yokohama and the Tohoku region. "Hachigatsu Bon" (Bon in August) is celebrated around the 15th of August. Most Japanese are celebrating Obon then.

"Kyu Bon" (Old Bon) is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, so the time for it varies each year. "Kyu Bon" is celebrated in parts of Japan like the northern part of the Kanto region, Chugoku, Shikoku, and the Southwestern islands.

Obon is not a public holiday in Japan but if one wish he or she can be absent from work. Traditional dance performed on the Obon is called Bon Odori. There is a legend about it.

Bon Odori
Bon Odori

Mokori was a disciple of the Buddha. He used his supernatural powers to take care of his deceased mother. She suffered a lot as she was in the kingdom of Hungry Ghosts. Mokori was very disturbed when he found out about the suffering of his beloved mother.

Mokori asked Buddha for help. Buddha told him to make offerings to the Buddhist monks who had finished their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Mokori did so and his mother was set free. Mokori was so happy and he started to dance. From this dance comes the Bon Odori or Bon dance.

Bon Odori or Bon dance
Bon Odori

As the Obon is held during summer participants in Bon Odori wear light kimonos called yukata. Each region has its own local Bon dance. Music accompanying the dance also differs from region to region. Songs performed can be related to the spiritual message of Obon. In some regions local min'yo folk songs are performed too.

Obon lanterns
Obon lanterns

The Obon festival ends with Toro Nagashi or the floating of lanterns. Lanterns, made of paper, are illuminated and set floating down the river. These lanterns should guide the ancestral spirits back to the world of the dead. Toro Nagashi also includes big fireworks.