Festivals in the summer are as ubiquitous as warm weather, and nearly every culture has a major celebration that you can take part in while wearing shorts. In Japan, Obon is a festival that combines spiritualism with communal fun. It is a three day festival based on the Buddhist belief that ancestors’ spirits visit the world of the living. The story goes that a disciple of the Buddha managed to see the spirit of his deceased mother, and saw that she was suffering. He then asked the Buddha what he could do, and was told to make offerings to Buddhist monks on the fifteenth day of the seventh month to relieve her suffering. The disciple did so and was successful, and he danced with joy to celebrate, which formed the basis of the “Bon Odori” or “Bon Dance.”

In Japan, during either July or August, people return to hometowns or ancestral homes, and hang up lanterns so that the spirits can find where they are going. During the day, people attend carnival-like events, and there is traditionally a community-specific Bon dance. At the end of the festival, lanterns are sent down rivers and streams to help guide the spirits back to the spirit world. People can be seen wearing “yukata,” a casual summer kimono at Obon, as it is cooler than other kimono. However, each community’s festival is unique in different ways. Typically, the dances themselves differ from each other, as the dance is meant to represent that specific community, but other aspects of the festivals can be unique as well. These can range from the music played to the features of a given location to the length of the celebration itself.

Philadelphia has its own Obon festival on Saturday August 18th, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Please come out and join us!

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