Obon: A Japanese Tradition Honoring The Ancestors’ Spirits

The bonodori is a spiritual dance to welcome the spirits. Every region has a local dance and a different music.

Posted by on August 12, 2017 – Japanese Study

Have you heard about the 500 years old Japanese tradition called obon? Very similar to Western Halloween, this holiday is called the Festival of the Dead and is one of the most important Japanese Buddhist customs.

The Japanese believe the spirits of the dead come back to visit the living and need to be honored. Obon usually takes place between August 13th – 15th, although the starting date depends on the region.

The First and Last Days of Obon

On the first day of Obon, Japanese families will usually clean their houses and prepare food offerings for their past relatives, called ozen (お(ぜん)). The main offerings are fruit, rice, green tea, sake and some special lotus shaped sweets.

They will also set out paper lanterns (提灯(ちょうちん), chouchin) called mukaebi ((むか)()) to guide the spirits back to their homes. Another custom is to carry the lanterns to the graves in order to call their ancestors back home.

Finally, after 3 days of celebration, spirits must be sent back to their grave. Once again, special lanterns will be lit, called “okuribi” ((おく)()). In some region, people will also float paper lanterns down the river.

A Celebration To Honor the Dead

Despite being an important custom in Japan, obon is not a national holiday. Many people will still take vacations in order to visit the graves of the family’s ancestors. The ritual is called ohakamairi (御墓参(ごはかまい)り) and consists into cleaning the graves with water to wash away any dirt or stains.

Bonodori: A Dance to Welcome The Dead

The bonodori is a spiritual dance to welcome the spirits. Every region has a local dance and a different music. Most of the time, the dancers are moving in a large circle around a yagura ((やぐら)), a central platform where musicians play traditional instruments. Among the various styles, the most famous one is called awa odori and is performed in the street.

Besides, it’s summer! Why not go on to check out one of our blogs in which we go through some seasonal Japanese words for the Summer!

Want to find out more about Coto Japanese Academy? Try taking a look at the various Japanese Language Courses we offer!

    Which school location would you like to study at?

    What lessons are you interested in?

    What is your current Japanese level?

    What time would you like to have lessons?

    Do you currently reside in Japan?

    Note: If for some reason you do not receive a reply from us within 48 hours - please check your spam folder or send us an email directly at info (at) cotoacademy.com and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

    By sending us your email you are agreeing to allow us to contact you with periodic updates and offers. If you would like to change this setting you may respond to any email from us simply by saying UNSUBSCRIBE and we will remove you from our list. Emails generated from our mail system will also have an UNSUBSCRIBE button that you can use to instantly update your preferences.

    Coto Japanese Academy is a unique Japanese Language School in Iidabashi Tokyo, we offer relaxed and fun conversational lessons for all levels of Japanese learner. Coto Japanese Academy prides itself on its community atmosphere and fun lessons that focus on creation of opportunities to speak and learn Japanese. If you are interested in studying Japanese in Tokyo – please visit our contact page here.