About Obon

Jul 26, 2022

O-bon is a holiday that takes place from August 13 to 16 (solar calendar) in Japan. It is a semi-religious tradition that honors the spirits of deceased ancestors. This custom of Buddhist origin became part of Japanese culture not only in religious and cultural aspects, but also as an occasion for social interaction with the community. It has been celebrated for 500 years and traditionally includes dances and dances such as Bon Odori, or festivals such as Gozan no Okuribi.  


Most of Japan celebrates O-bon in August, but some places celebrate it in July and it is called Bon. The latter is celebrated between July 13 and 15, mainly in a part of Tokyo and Yokohama, Shizuoka and a part of Tōhoku Region and Hokuriku.


Obon is a shortened form of Ullambana which in Japanese is urabon’e (于蘭盆會 or 盂蘭盆會.) In the Sanskrit language it means “hanging upside down” and implies great suffering.  


According to legend O-bon originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren) a disciple of Gautama Buddha who used his supernatural powers to try to contact his deceased mother. He discovered that she had fallen into the realm of hungry ghosts and was suffering. Extremely disturbed, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could free his mother from this realm. The Buddha instructed him to make offerings on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did so and was thus able to see his mother. He also began to see the true nature of her past selflessness and the many sacrifices she had made for him. Happy for his mother’s deliverance and grateful for her kindness, they both danced with enthusiasm. From this dance of joy would come Bon Odori, a festival in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.  


Since the Bon takes place in the heat of summer, participants traditionally wear a yukata or light cotton kimonos. Numerous Obon celebrations include a large carnival with parades, games and typical summer foods such as watermelon. Obon is a holiday of utmost importance to the Japanese, full of traditions and symbolism that have a noble goal: to remember those who are no longer with us. And far from being a sad holiday, it is a celebration full of joy, thanks to which people can rest to be with their family, return to their villages and spend pleasant moments paying homage to their ancestors.  


Flowers have their importance especially on the second day of celebration which is the day when people are accustomed to visit the graves of their ancestors and leave offerings such as flowers.



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