Saturday, 15 August 2015

What is Obon?

Hello! This is going to be a lighter than usual entry, but still has it's interest spark ;P

So 2 days ago my teacher told me that there was a traditional celebration going on in Japan called Obon (お盆). Then he proceeded to show me an interesting video about it which I'll link down below. 
After that he explained that it is a time when roads are full because everyone drives back to their hometown. He used to see this celebration back at home but added that is not traditionally celebrated that much anymore. This means that people rather go to the popular congregations where there's music playing and a matsuri (festival) in general rather than doing the purification at home and spending time at the cemetery (I guess). He also said that his parents don't celebrate it anymore but his grandparents do (so 30 years ago). He remembers going up to the cemetery as a young boy and when leaving they would "pretend" to carry their ancestors on their backs to their homes, spend some days with them at home (honoring them, serving them food) and then they drop them back to the cemetery the same way they took them until the next year.

The Obon holiday (also known as Ullambana Festival or Ancestor Day (Buddhist) festival  which has evolved into a family reunion holiday) was created in Japan to honor one’s deceased ancestors. Often, people will return to their ancestors graves to visit and clean. This celebration has been going on for over 500 years to date.  The festivities include a dance, known as “Bon-odori.” This festival lasts for 3 days, but starts on a different date in each region of Japan, so every region has its own way of doing it. 

It is a customary belief that the ancestors’ spirits visit the world of the living during Obon. Lanterns are hung in front of the houses to guide the spirits; Obon dances (or Bon Odori) are performed to welcome the spirits and to appreciate the ancestors’ sacrifices; people visit the ancestors’ graves; and food offerings, as well as prayers, are offered at the altars and temples. 

As Obon occurs in the heat of the summer, participants traditionally wear yukata, or light cotton kimonos. Many Obon celebrations include a huge carnival with rides, games, and summer festival food like watermelon.

Bon Odori

Bon Odori is a traditional dance that originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), a disciple of Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. Greatly disturbed, he went to Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (although it would be July we are talking from the perspective of the lunar calendar, so it's August). The disciple did this and, thus, saw his mother's release. He also began to see the true nature of her past selflessness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or "Bon Dance", a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.

You can get an idea of the dance with this video :

In this next video the music is live and you can hear the taiko (Japanese drums) very well:

Depending on Japan’s region, Obon is observed from the 13th to the 15th day of July or August. The last day of the festival is ended with floating lanterns (or Toro Nagashi). Paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down to rivers, lakes, and seas in order  to guide the spirits’ return to the other world. Fireworks display usually follows. 

That's all for this, did you know this festivity? Today it's its last day "officially"!

Sources: sourcesource2


  1. Hello there!

    Wooow, that was interesting! I knew about this tradition, but it was so so little compared to all the resources and info you gave, so thank you so much :D It's so cool you found a japanese native teacher because not only you learn the language, but you learn about their culture first hand. I think that's awesome and a privilege :) Because some cultures can sometimes be hard to be understood, but explained through a native's eyes can make things easier. I always saw this kind of dance in many animes, but never knew where they came from. It's amazing how much they honour and respect their ancestors. You just have to walk around a graveyard there, all the tombs are so majestic 'o'
    Honestly I've always felt kind of afraid of graveyards and stuff like that, but they make it look so natural and idk it's easier to handle it. I mean they even have a little shrine or whatever is it called at their homes if someone dies.

    However what would be my favourite thing is the lights festival thing, it's incredibly beautiful *-*

    Thank you for sharing what you're learning! I'll be looking forward to reading more stuff as always :3


  2. Hello! First and foremost, thank you for passing by :3
    And yes! We have some times when it's hard to understand each other but it's very funny x)
    I would say the reason they make it look so natural is because for them, it is. I've even talked with him about this and he told me that here "death" is perceived as something more distant than there. He said that death is present in their everyday lives and that it's no big deal at all, nothing taboo or to be scared of at all! it's just different from here, I don't think people come in contact with it the same way.
    Graveyards are definitely creepy!! Just at night though hehe. I also find them very thrilling :P (wouldn't want to fin myself in one when it's dark though x) just watching a film eheh).

    I can tell you more about it when I see you :D

    Can't wait!