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The Obon Festival – Japan’s version of ‘Day of the Dead’

Hello everyone! Today I bring you another ever-popular Japanese information post! You guys seem to like these, so I will continue to learn more to share with you! Although this post is a bit late as I had forgotten that I had written about it, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Today I will be discussing the Obon Festival, or sometimes just known as Bon Festival; I discovered this word whilst reading the Manga ‘Shaman King’ which for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is about a young Shaman boy named Yoh Asakura who enters a competition to fight with his 600 year-old samurai spirit, Amidamaru, in order to win and become the Shaman King. Basically a story about people teaming up with ghosts, spirits and the dead, and fighting one another; the term ‘Obon’ popped up because it is Japan’s version of the Mexican holiday ‘Day of the Dead’ and the Manga typically revolves around people communicating with the dead.
shaman-king-03_zps91c930e0Obon is a Japanese Buddhist celebration where people honour and express gratitude to the spirits of their ancestors, and has been celebrated for more than 500 years; it has evolved over time to become a family reunion holiday where people return to ancestral family places and hometowns. The festival lasts for three days however the starting date varies from region to region within Japan, and although the three days are not listed as public holidays, it is common for people to take or be given leave during this time.

The term Obon derives from the word ‘Ullambana’ which is Sanskrit for ‘hanging upside down’ and implies great suffering, and is also referred to as the ‘Ghost Festival’ or ‘Hungry Ghost Festival’ in modern day. It is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in Asian countries, and the Japanese believe that it is their duty to relieve the suffering of their ancestors.
Mulian_Saves_HIs_MotherThe Bon Festival originated from the story of a loyal disciple of the Buddha; it is told that he obtained supernatural powers and with those, called to look upon his dead mother whom he greatly cared about. He was shocked to discover that she had fallen into the Buddhist hell of starvation or ‘realm of Hungry Ghosts’ and was suffering. Unsure of what to do, he went to Buddha for advice on how to help his mother. He was instructed to make offerings to the Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat; he did this and saw his mother’s release to heaven. The disciple danced with joy at his mother’s release and thus created the traditional festival dance Bon Odori.
159964722_f386434f03_oJapanese people visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, clean their houses and place a variety of food offerings to the spirits of their ancestors in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar), as well as chochin lanterns and arrangements of flowers ready for the arrival of their ancestors’ spirits that visit once a year. During Obon, senko incense is often lit in Japanese homes and cemeteries.
101226NakanoChochinChochin lanterns are hung in front of houses to guide the spirits back to their ancestral homes, sometimes the family will go to the cemetery with flowers and offerings to accompany the spirits, this is called mukae-bon. Fires called mukae-bi are lit at the entrances of houses or in the gardens to welcome the spirits home.
20110702-Senshin-Bon-OdoriBon Odori is a traditional dance that is different to each region, as well as different music; it will look and sounds different from region to region, and the way it is performed can depict the area’s history and specialisation. Typically the dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold which is used for the festival Yagura.
2003800780Because the festival takes place during the summer, participants traditionally wear yukata or light cotton kimonos. Many Obon celebrations include carnival rides, games and summer food like watermelon and shaved ice!
f30c85d33662a340e849e60c5671f120Obon ends with Toro-Nagashi which involves floating chochin lanterns on rivers, lakes and seas to guide the spirits back to the world of the dead; the ceremony usually finishes with a fireworks display.

So that’s all for this post, I hope you enjoyed learning about the Obon Festival! It’s quite interesting to learn what a culture does for their deceased as a lot of Western cultures rarely recognise those that have passed. I personally visit my mum every single year without fail and take her roses, we then go and have a meal and make a toast to her. Most people commemorate close relatives but it often doesn’t last; it’s nice that Japan do this as a yearly event for all their ancestors, even those that died generations before! I love how respectful they are of all the people around them regardless of whether they are living or dead, it really is a shame that Western culture hardly has any traditions that are so sentimental and respectful. Until next time~♥

3 thoughts on “The Obon Festival – Japan’s version of ‘Day of the Dead’

  1. Thank you for sharing your research on the Obon Festival 🙂 I also think is fascinating how the japanese culture respects death and make it part of their daily lifes with ceremonies like this.

    1. Thanks, it was lots of fun to research and learn about! I am glad that someone has benefited from this post! I really appreciate cultures that do traditions like this because the West doesn’t really hold such traditions, especially in the UK which is really disappointing.

      1. I’m from Chile and same here, in spite there’s a lot of traditions for this subjects in latinamerica, in my country doesn’t apply very much. I just wrote in my blog about de nokan ritual that I saw in a movie, is also really interesting. Have a nice day 🙂

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