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Obon, Bon Festival and Bon Odori – Japan Summer Festival
It is summer again and it calls for the time of summer festivals in Japan, where there are various kinds of stalls (or yatai), hanabi (fireworks), yukata, beaches and watermelons!
July and August marks the peak of summer in Japan. And in these months Japanese people celebrate summer festivals which may vary from place to place. One such festival is called Obon or Bon Festival which is a Japanese custom festival celebrated as part to honor the deceased spirits of their ancestors. It is actually a customary tradition closely related to Buddhist practice and has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. Now Obon or Bon has turned into an event where families gather for the holiday and people will return to their ancestral family places as well as visit and clean the graves of their ancestors. It was believed too that at this time around, the spirits of ancestors supposed to revisit the household altars.
Obon or Bon also include special dance by the local people known as Bon-odori and it is a dance that symbolize joy and appreciation for the deceased spirits of their ancestors. This festival usually last for three days but like previously stated, it is not celebrated on a fixed date and time, rather according to regions and community. There are shichigatsu Bon (around 15th July) in areas like Tokyo, Yokohama and Tohoku region, hachigatsu Bon (around 15th August), the most common celebration time, and there’s another called as Kyu Bon or Old Bon celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar so it differs each year. Kyu Bon is usually celebrated in areas like northern part of Kanto, Chugoku, Shikoku and southwestern islands. Obon is not national holiday but people are usually given permission for earlier leave.
Outfit during Obon or Bon Festival
Since it is summer, men and women usually wear yukata, a light weight cotton kimono, which is cooling and comfortable. Of course the design for men is slightly different, and bigger in size than the design for women. Women’s yukata came in much more vibrant colors and beautiful designs while men’s yukata is either plain or with abstract designs and dark colors.
Activities during Obon or Bon Festival
There will be plenty of activities! Besides the traditional Bon-Odori dance, Obon music and traditional musical instruments being played, there are usually a line of small booth called yatai that sells a lot of food stuff and games, not forgetting the Japanese favorite summer fruit- the watermelon! This festival will close its curtains with Toro Nagashi or the floating of lanterns where paper lanterns are illuminated and floated down the river. This action is symbolic to sending the ancestral spirits back to the world of the dead. Perhaps remind you a little of the famous anime by Ghibli ‘Spirited Away’. There will also be fireworks, which is rather synonymous to summer in Japan.
Obon or Bon Festival outside Japan
So far Obon or Bon festival is also celebrated outside Japan in countries like Brazil, Malaysia, United States and Canada. The event will be held by Japanese corporation and big Japanese companies and will gather Japanese people as well as local people nearby the area and celebrate the festival together. This cultural exposure is a real mind opening experience.
Written by Guest writer, Honeyshikido who actually went to an Obon festival held in Matsushima Park, Selangor, Malaysia. Pictures are courtesy of the writer herself.