Japan Australia Pages

Monday, August 12, 2013

Obon 2013

Obon (お盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of our ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, the spirits of our ancestors come back to this world in order to visit their relatives. The spirits visit the family household altar, where we make offerings of food and prayers. We traditionally hang lanterns called chochin in front of the house to guide the spirits home and visit cemeteries and temples together with our family. This Buddhist custom has in recent times evolved into an important family get-together or re-union, where people return to their ancestral family homes to visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. At the end of Obon, the lanterns are usually taken to the family grave-site in a practice called okuri-bon or placed into rivers, lakes, or sea in order to guide the spirits back into their world.

Obon has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance called Bon-Odori (盆踊り). Here in Gifu Prefecture, there is a famous Bon-Odori in Gujo Hachiman called Gujo-Odori. This is one of the biggest Bon festival dances in Japan. It is held on 31 nights from mid-July to early September with the four main nights in the middle of August (13, 14, 15, 16) where they dance through-out the night.

Bon-Odori originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), who was a disciple of the Buddha. Mokuren used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. While doing this he discovered that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering and in pain. Disturbed by this vision, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed Mokuren to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Mokuren did this and just as Buddha had said, saw his mother released from the realm. Overjoyed and grateful for her release he danced with joy and thus Bon-Odori was born.

Obon lasts for three days; however the starting date varies depending on the region of Japan. “Shichigatsu Bon” or Bon in July is celebrated from 13 - 15 July in areas such as Tokyo, Yokohama and the Tohoku region. “Hachigatsu Bon” or Bon in August is celebrated from 13 - 15 August and is the most commonly celebrated time in Japan. The Obon week in mid-August is one of Japan’s peak holiday seasons with lots of people travelling around the country. This year the peak Obon travel period is anticipated to be between 10 August and 18 August, so take note if you are travelling during this period. The busiest days will be 10 August with people leaving home and 17-18 August with people returning home.

Goju-Odori from Gujo Hachiman Tourist Association


  1. Are you taking the week/days off for Obon?

    1. Hi Lina, Yeah, the company I work for closes for three days for Obon, and I have taken some time off prior to that. Back to work again on Friday!


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