The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park recently celebrated its 4th annual Obon Festival. The Obon is a Japanese tradition where families celebrate their ancestors who have passed. It’s often called the “festival of the dead.” Obon is one of the three major holiday seasons in Japan.
Traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of homes to guide spirits, Obon dances are performed, ancestors’ graves are visited by families, and it ends with floating lanterns placed into rivers and lakes to lead the spirits back to their world. Currently, the festival is more of a community event where the spirits of departed family members and ancestors are honored, celebrated and remembered.
In Japan, it has been celebrated for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori. The festival occurs for three days in July or August. Hawaii, however, celebrates from June through September.
Bon Odori (盆踊り? or “Bon dance”) is a style of dancing performed during Obon. Each region that celebrates Obon has a specific dance and music that represents the spiritual message of Obon, history or specializations. Some dances use various fans, others use towels with colorful designs that are called tenugui, colorful small wooden clappers called “kachi-kachi,” or a straw hat decorated with flowers.
Several countries outside of Japan celebrate Obon as well. Here in the United States and Canada, the “Bon season” is an important part of the Hawaiian culture. It’s celebrated by Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Canadians who are part of the Buddhist temples and community organizations. It’s celebrated through religious observances and traditional dance.
Argentina celebrated during the summer in the Colonia Urquiza in La Plata. Brazil (Brasil) celebrates the Bon Odori Festival every year all over Brazil, which is also home to the largest Japanese communities other than in Japan. Sao Paulo is the main Japanese community city in Brazil. Korea’s Bon celebration is known as Baekjung, mixing agriculture festivities with religion. Malaysia’s Bon festival is less associated with Buddhism and more with Japanese culture. It showcases Japanese food, art and dance with various Japanese companies in promotion of their products & services.