Obon, also known as Bon Obon, is a day observed by Japanese Buddhists to honor the spirits of their ancestors. It originally began as a Buddhist custom but has quickly evolved into a holiday in which families hold reunions and take the opportunity to visit their ancestral homes. It is also a day in which people not only visit the graves of their ancestors but also clean these graves. It is one of the biggest holidays in Japan and is observed from the 13th to the 15th day of the seventh lunar month or around August 15th.
History of Obon
The origin of Obon can be traced back to the story of Maha Maudgalyayana – a disciple of Buddha who used his magical powers to look back upon his deceased mother. While observing her, he learned that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and needed help. He decided to visit Buddha and ask what could be done to get his mother released from this realm. The advice Buddha gave him was simple. He told him to the Buddhist monks on the 15th day of the seventh month. When he did that, his mother was soon released from the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. It was at this time that he was also able to view her selflessness and learned all that she had sacrificed for him. He was so happy his mother was released, and that he now had a new understanding of his mother, he began to dance with happiness.
Obon Customs & Traditions
Besides reuniting with family, visiting ancestral sites and visiting and cleaning the graves of their ancestors, the Japanese also celebrate in a variety of other ways. They hang lanterns outside their homes to guide their ancestor’s spirits and they perform dances called Bon Odori. They also place food on altars both in their homes and at their temples. At the end of the Obon celebrations, the Japanese will then put floating lanterns onto the seas, lakes or rivers. This is supposed to guide the spirits back to the world of the dead.