The Buddhist festival of Obon, or Bon, is an annual festival to commemorate one’s ancestors. It is based on the belief that every year, during the festival, ancestral spirits rise to visit their relatives in the world of the living. It is an important festival in Japan and it brings together generations of families back in their hometowns.
Households would hang huge, colourful lanterns in front of the houses to guide the spirits in, while dances are performed at huge festivals, graves are visited, and offerings are made at temples. To mark the end of the festival, the lanterns are put into rivers or seas, guiding the spirits back into their world.
To welcome the spirits, the Japanese clean their houses thoroughly, and offer fruits and other food items to statues of Buddha in their homes. During the festival, the aroma of scented candles and incense sticks often pervades the streets, with music and dance performances held during Obon.
Bon odori is the style of dance performed during Obon, welcoming the spirits back to the land. The dance is performed differently in different regions, though the premise is the same: dancers lining up in a circle around a yagura – a high wooden scaffold made especially for this festival.
This festival is traditionally held from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year (which is July according to the solar calendar). Many regions in Japan still celebrate Obon during mid-July. However, according to the lunar calendar, the 7th month is August, and thus Obon is observed mid-August in other places in Japan.
Although it is not a national holiday, this festival is of great significance for most locals and they take a vacation to celebrate it with their families.
Obon is celebrated the world over by Japanese communities in Argentina, Brazil, China, Korea, Malaysia, and even in countries like the United States, Canada and Australia.
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