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Learn About Japanese Culture – O-Bon (お盆)

O-bon is a religious event where people hold a memorial service to the spirits of their ancestors.  It is held around July 15 or August 15 depending on the area.

O-bon was originally held around July 15 of the lunar calendar. But, since the solar calendar was adopted in Japan, it has been held around August 15 in many areas, because the period around July 15 is the busiest period for farmers. They started to hold the o-bon ceremony one month later. So, during the period around August 15, many companies are closed so that people can return to their hometown.

During O-bon, which is from the 13th to the 16th, the spirits of the deceased are said to return to their families.  What people do for this religious ceremony is different depending on the area. But basically, on the 13th, people visit their ancestors’ graves and light lanterns in order to lead the deceased to their home. During the o-bon period, they stay with the spirits of their ancestors, until they see them off on the 16th.

Have you ever seen a miniature of a cow made of egg plant and a horse made of cucumber displayed on a tray at the entrance of a house?  This is for the spirits of ancestors to have their luggages loaded onto the cow and take a ride on the horse when they return to their home.

Also, Bon Dance Festival is held during the o-bon period in many cities and towns. During the festival, people dance around a tower, on top of which a person beats a Japanese drum and plays the dancing song.  The Bon Dance was originally a religious ceremony to hold a memorial service to the spirits of ancestors. But, now it doesn’t have so much of a religious meaning anymore.  People just enjoy this bon festival as a summer festival.