Bon Festival, Japan

Bon Festival, Japan

Bon Festival, Japan


Celebration Date
13th  to 15th August
Other Name
Holiday Type
Not National Holiday


Obon or just Bon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. This Buddhist-Confucian custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors' graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori. 

The Bon Festival is held to pray for the repose of the souls of one's ancestors. It's one of the biggest traditional events during the year, along with New Year's. It's sometimes called o-bon or urabon. In the past, it was held in the middle of the seventh month on Japan's traditional calendar.


History of Obon

Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, which is called Fumizuki or the "Month of Books." Obon periods are a bit different nowadays and vary by the regions of Japan. In most areas, Obon is celebrated in August, which is called Hazuki in Japanese, or the "Month of Leaves. The house is cleaned and dusted, and fruits and vegetables are offered at family altars. When Bon ends, the spirits are sent off with another bonfire, called okuri-bi. Some regions release small lanterns down rivers or into the sea as part of the okuri-bi ritual.

Japanese people clean their houses and place a variety of food offerings such as vegetables and fruits to the spirits of their ancestors in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar). Chochin lanterns and arrangements of flowers are usually placed by the butsudan as another offering. Today, participants dance to express their joy to be living happily and to honor loved ones who have passed away. Obon is also commonly known as the Festival of Lanterns, referring to the traditional lighting of the chochin at family shrines and gravesites.


Bon Odori

Bon Odori, meaning simply Bon dance, is a style of dancing performed during Obon. Originally a Nenbutsu folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead, the style of celebration varies in many aspects from region to region. Each region has a local dance, as well as different music. The music can be songs specifically pertinent to the spiritual message of Obon, or local minyo folk songs. Consequently, the Bon dance will look and sound different from region to region. Hokkaido is known for a folk-song known as "Soran Bushi".

The song "Tokyo Ondo" takes its namesake from the capital of Japan. "Gujo Odori" in Gujo in Gifu Prefecture is famous for all night dancing. "Goshu Ondo" is a folk song from Shiga Prefecture. Residents of the Kansai area will recognize the famous "Kawachi ondo". Tokushima in Shikoku is very famous for its "Awa Odori", and in the far south, one can hear the "Ohara Bushi" of Kagoshima. 




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