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What is Japanese Obon? Posted by on Aug 13, 2018 in Culture, Grammar, Holidays

Knowledge of Language is the Doorway to the Wisdom. ~Roger Bacon~ 


Picture from Pixabay

Hi everyone! Hope you are enjoying the month of August (Hachi gatsu, はちがつ,八月) . Hard to believe it’s already August where I feel like summer (Natsu, なつ, 夏 ) is approaching to the end, and we are about to start the fall (Aki, あき, 秋 )season before we know it.

Every year around this time of the year, I always miss back home (Japan, にほん, 日本) due to Obon(Obon, おぼん,お盆) festival. Obon lasts normally for 3 days. Obon is a major event during the summer in Japan as we welcome and honor the souls of our ancestors(Gosenzo sama no rei,ごせんぞさまのれい,ご先祖さまの霊)  from the spiritual world. Some people translate the Obon to “Festivals of the Dead” but I don’t know if I quite like the translation. I would rather want to call it ” Festival of Souls” or even “Soul’s Day”.


During Obon, we often visit the graves (Ohaka mairi, おはかまいり,お墓参り ) as a family to clean the graves and also to replace the flowers at the graves with fresh ones. We then pray at the grave, thanking them for watching over us every day.


When Obon festival starts, which is normally around August 13th, we hang Japanese lanterns (Cho-chin, ちょうちん,提灯 ) outside of our house so the returning sprits can find their way to our home without getting lost.  After 3 days of celebration, we then use floating lanterns (toro-nagashi, とうろうながし, 灯籠流し) in the river to send off ancestor’s spirits back. Floating lanterns are also believed to guide them back to where they came from.


As another way of sending off the sprits back, we celebrate Obon(Obon, おぼん,お盆) through Bon Odori(Bon dance,ぼんおどり, 盆踊り). Bon Odori is a Japanese dance celebration where we dance to our folk songs. Styes and variety of dances are unique to each local area. Japanese drums (Taiko, たいこ,太鼓 ) are often used at Bon Odori, and some of the famous Bon Odori attract many people from different areas.  As a child, I remember I looked forward to Bon Odori as I got to wear Yukata (Japanese summer kimono, ゆかた,浴衣) to dress up.


Below is probably one of the best video’s regarding Obon festival. I might have shared this in the past too, but here it is. Hope you will get an idea of Obon festival in Japan.



Obon is definitely a family reunion time in Japan. People who live away from their hometown often come visit their parents’ (Jikka, じっか,実家 ) to celebrate this precious time together.



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About the Author: keiko

Born and raised in Japan. She currently lives in U.S. with her husband and two kids.