Memories of O-bon Past

In Japan, and other places where Japanese culture is strong, this is the time of the O-bon festival — the honouring of the spirits of dead ancestors. At this time it is common for Japanese families travel to relatives’ graves, or to set up household altars so that their spirits may visit them instead.

O-bon is celebrated with a three-day festival and a dance, Bon Odori, to welcome the spirits of the dead. While the style of Bon Odori varies from region to region, it almost always involves a large group of people circling the yagura, a kind of elevated wooden platform where the musicians stand.

Both of my Japanese O-bon experiences were in Tokyo (in 2005 and 2007) where August 15th is the official first day. Hawaii has a whole “Bon Season” that runs from June through August.

Tokyo is generally miserably hot in July and August, but I would happily sweat through another summer there to dance around the yagura and eat festival food once more. Of course, in all the festivities I did tend to forget the sober heart of O-bon — the respect and remembrance of those we have lost. Read another way, however, O-bon reminds me of the joy of being happy, healthy and alive.

 

Photos by author.

 

Azabu-Juban Festival. August 2005.

 

Roppongi Bon, 2007.

 

Wahiawa Bon (O’ahu), 2010.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Memories of O-bon Past

  1. Very interesting, I’d never heard of this festival before. The photos are beautiful and just add to my desire to visit Japan some day. I have a feeling it would be almost therapeutic for me. And where HAVEN’T you lived before, Karen? ;-)

  2. Ha! Too many places. You must visit Japan some day, really. I love these kinds of festivals and would just love to be in Mexico some day for Day of the Dead.

    Thank you!

  3. Reblogged this on Japan Reblogged and commented:
    I did not know that Hawaii has “Bon Season” that runs from June through August. After the earthquake and electroc power problem, some companies shut down facilities during O-bon week around August 15th.

  4. The way in which the dance is performed is also different in each region, though the typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura . The yagura is usually also the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music. Some dances proceed clockwise, and some dances proceed counter-clockwise around the yagura. Some dances reverse during the dance, though most do not. At times, people face the yagura and move towards and away from it. Still some dances, such as the Kagoshima Ohara dance, and the Tokushima Awa Odori, simply proceed in a straight line through the streets of the town.

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