The most important religious holiday on Japan’s calendar, the Obon Festival is a family reunion, several days of merriment and dance, and remembrance of ghosts all rolled into one.
It’s a true-blue Buddhist festival with a beautiful origin. It’s based on the Buddhist belief that on the 15th day of the 7th month, spirits can visit the living world because the gateways to Heaven and Hell are opened.
(Courtesy: Matthew Hine)
The best part of the festival, however, is Awa Odori, where from 13th to 15th August, over a million visitors come to Shikoku Island and indulge in dances with ridiculous names like Nagashi and Zomeki, the dances as crazy as the names themselves. What’s more, the festival’s traditional song roughly translates to “The dancers are fools, the watchers are fools, both are fools alike so, why not dance?”
The Obon Festival, sometimes also called just Bon Festival, has its origins in the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), an ardent disciple of the Buddha, who used his powers to look upon his deceased mother. He learned of the fact that his mother was taken into the realm of the hungry ghosts, a parallel world where there was endless hunger and loads of suffering.
Buddha instructed his disciple to give offerings to some monks returning on the auspicious 15th day of the 7th month, to which Mokuren agreed. By doing so, he got back his mother. He also remembered her acts of selflessness and kindness, and danced out of sheer joy, which explains the origins of the now-famous Bon dance, a core part of this festival.
(Courtesy: Pieterjan Vandaele)
For those who were wondering; yes, this is Japans’s version of Asia’s Hungry Ghost festival, and is also celebrated in different parts of the world, including the country with the largest population of Japanese people outside Japan, Brazil.
Rituals at the festival include putting flowers on the graves of deceased kith and kin, releasing floating lanterns into the ocean, and attending candle-lighting sessions in temples.
Obon usually doesn’t have fixed dates; this year, it’s from the 13th to the 15th of August, but it’s still best that you check the dates before hand, just in case they change. The festival attracts several visitors, so book your tickets well in advance, or celebrate at home if you have friends celebrating it or if you’re a Japanese immigrant.
This one deserves to be on your bucket list, because nothing is as wonderful as dancing on the streets and celebrating your loved ones!