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What is Obon ?

Image by @priscilladupreez


Obon is the Buddhist festival which honours the spirits of the dead. It is observed from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month.

The 7th month can be interpreted as July, according to the solar calendar. Or August, according to the lunar calendar. Obon is therefore celebrated at different times in different regions depending on which calendar is observed. 

These Instagram posts show how Japan is commemorating Obon. 


The Obon Festival commemorates the spirits of dead ancestors, and it’s believed their spirits return to visit their homes and relatives.

It is a time of family reunion, when many return to their family home and meet up with parents and relatives. It makes it a busy time for traveling to and from the major cities to the towns.

Paper lanterns are hung out to symbolically light a path and guide the spirits to their ancestral homes, and then guide them back to their grave. Families will often set up an altar for their ancestors and visit their grave site. In some regions, large fires are lit at the entrances of the houses to guide the spirits inside. A special dance, the Bon Odori is performed at outdoor events, which are decorated with the lanterns.

The chyrysanthemum, the Japanese national flower is often given as gifts or displayed at this time. 



This is nugoo's Tenugui to celebrate the Bon Odori dance. 

The style of the traditional Bon Odori dance is based around the rhythms of Japanese taiko drums, the very large drums which are worn by the drummers. Dancers perform on a yagura stage and participants wear light cotton kimonos. It is usual for anyone to join in the dances which are held in parks, temples and specially created public events

To explain the origins of Obon, we found a good description from the JR railpass blog

The Buddhist festival has been celebrated for more than 500 years. It originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren). He was a disciple of Buddha who used his powers to see the spirit of his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering.

Buddha advised Mokuren to make offerings to Buddhist monks. On the 15th day of the 7th month, he followed Buddha’s advice and his mother was released from her suffering. Mokuren danced with joy which is the origin of the Obon dance.

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