Obon (around mid-August)
Obon (Festival of the Dead) is when the souls of the dead are believed to return to their homes.
Many people visit the graves of the ancestors and set up lanterns to guide the spirits of ancestral souls to and from their homes.
Bon is celebrated nationwide over the course of a week with feasting, the sprucing up of graves and prayers for the dead. Offerings of food are made to the deceased and sometimes special bon odori dances are performed at shrines and schools and lanterns are floated down rivers. Neighbors gather to dance informal bon odori dances. Taiko drums are often heard in the distance.
Obon is a time when urban families return to the hometowns to honor their ancestors. Many company employees are given a week off work along with a summer bonus. Roads are jammed with cars. Trains and planes are packed with people. For children it is happy time when they get to go to their grandparent’s house and play outside in the countryside.
The Japanese believe that during obon the dead return to earth and roam among the living. As bon approaches you find small bundles of straw for sale at flower shops and supermarkets. On the first day of Bon, the dead are said to find their way back their families by the light of burning straw (mukaebi , or “welcoming fire”). On the last day, straw is burned again (okuribi or “send-off fire”) for the dead to return to the land of the dead. In some places red lanterns are left out to guide ghosts to their old homes and help them return to the spirit world.
In Hibiya Park in Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo, women in yukata dance to the popular Bon Oduri song Marunouchiondi. Around 16,000 people show up for the event.