If you’ve ever considered visiting Japan in the summer, you might have heard of Obon, or Bon Festival. Sometimes referred to as the Japanese Festival of the Dead, Obon is one of the most important Japanese festivals and is celebrated at the height of summer in mid-August. It is an important family holiday in Japan, where the Japanese people honor the spirits of their ancestors.
Here are some things you might not have known about Obon!
1. Obon is the 2nd most significant holiday after New Year’s Day
Obon lasts between four to five days, and during this period, many people travel back to their hometowns to pay their respects to their ancestors. As a result, it is one of the busiest (and most expensive!) travel periods in Japan.
2. Obon is about honoring your ancestors and your loved ones who have passed away
During Obon, the Japanese visit the graves of their deceased loved ones (a custom known as ohaka-mairi お墓参り) and clean up household altars. They also visit temples or shrines, or hire Buddhist priests to perform a memorial service known as hoyo or kuyo. Obon has sometimes been compared to Halloween or Day of the Dead, both of which are festivals that also have its roots in honoring departed souls.
3. The Japanese light a small fire to guide spirits home
If you walk around residential areas during Obon, you might see small fires in front of houses. Do not be alarmed! The Japanese believe that the spirits of their ancestors return to visit during Obon, so they light a flame known as mukaebi 迎え火 to help guide those spirits home. In more modern times, the open flames have been replaced with lanterns that utilize electric bulbs instead.
4. They sometimes prepare special animals to help their ancestors’ spirits
To help their ancestors’ journey to and from the realm of the dead, some Japanese craft special animals out of vegetables! Cucumbers are used to create horses, which are said to help spirits return home as soon as possible, while eggplants are used to create cows that will take the spirits back slowly after the festival.
5. The Bon Odori (Bon Dance) is performed to welcome spirits
Obon is not a solemn affair! The lively Bon Odori dancing has become almost synonymous with Obon festivals, and even summer festivals in general. This classic folk dance has many different variations, depending on where you are, with particular favorites being Hokkaido’s Soran-bushi and Tokyo’s Tokyo Ondo.
6. Spirits are sent off with spectacular bonfire displays
At the end of Obon, bonfires are lit to help guide the spirits back to the realm of the dead. Particularly popular bonfire festivals include the Gozan Okuribi in Kyoto, which is a tourist hotspot. If you’re less inclined to jostle in the summer heat at a festival, some regions choose instead to pen messages on paper lanterns and float them on the river to guide the spirits away.
7. Obon does not always happen in August
Depending on where you are in Japan, the festival is held at different times! While celebrating in August is the most common, some regions in eastern Japan celebrate a whole month earlier in July. There is also Kyu Bon, or Old Bon, celebrated in the northern part of the Kanto Region. It falls around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar.
8. It is not a national holiday
You would think that a festival in Japan with as much significance as this would be a national holiday, but it is not! Even so, it is a summer holiday for students and many companies will take a few days off during this period.
Is ZenMarket working during Obon?
ZenMarket will keep working during the Obon holidays, which falls between 11th to 16th August 2019. However, as many stores, retailers, and other related services will be closed during some or all of these days, we expect slower activity during this period. There is likely to be delays in sending goods, packing, and registering parcel arrivals at the warehouse. Please keep this in mind when purchasing.
That's all from us! Have you ever celebrated Obon before? Let us know on our social media channels below!
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