Now in its seventh year, the Philadelphia Obon Festival is a celebration of Japanese heritage and Japanese arts and culture that is free and open to the public. In addition to taking part in bon odori, attendees can listen to taiko drumming by KyoDaiko, try on a yukata, or decorate a hand fan. Here’s what to know before you go to Obon!
- When and where does the Obon Festival take place? The Philadelphia Obon Festival will take place outside of Shofuso on Saturday, August 24 from 11 AM to 5 PM. In the event of poor weather, the festival will be rescheduled to Sunday, August 25.
- Where can I park for the Obon Festival? Free parking is available in Shofuso’s parking lot. Other nearby free parking can be found in a lot across from the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center at 100 N. Horticultural Drive, and along Lansdowne Ave & the Avenue of the Republic. The Please Touch Museum also offers parking for $12 per car.
- Will there be food available? Can I pack a picnic? Yes and yes! Three food vendors will join us at Obon: Poi Dog, Dump-N-Roll, and Purposeful Pops. Attendees are also welcome to bring a picnic lunch and water. Vendors will also sell bottled water.
- Will there be craft vendors? Yes. This year, Kanzashi Creations, Hikari Wo Sagasu, Arise Bazaar, and Origami Jewelry will participate in the festival.
- Can I wear a yukata? Yes. If you own Japanese summer clothing such as yukata, jinbei, or even a happi coat, you are welcome to wear them to Obon. Never worn a yukata? Volunteers will staff a tent where you can try one on.
- Is this festival good for kids? Yes. Kids can participate in the Obon dances, play goldfish-scooping and watermelon smashing games, and enjoy the cultural activities.
- May I bring my dog to Obon? Yes! Dogs are welcome in Fairmount Park and at the Obon Festival. Please note that any pets must stay outside of Shofuso; only service animals are permitted inside the garden.
- Will Shofuso be open during Obon? Yes, the house and garden will be open to regular visitors. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for students, seniors, and youth 5-17, $2 for ACCESS Card holders, and free to children 5 and under, military with ID, and members of JASGP.
- Where can I get live updates on the Obon Festival? Follow Shofuso on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and follow JASGP on Facebook and Twitter.
What is Obon?
Obon is a Japanese festival that takes place every summer. Though contemporary Obon festivals have been secularized, the traditions date back hundreds of years and are rooted in Buddhism.
According to Obon tradition, it is believed that ancestors return to the living world as spirits once a year to visit their families. Common Japanese Obon customs include visiting the graves of ancestors, cleaning them, making food offerings, and hanging lanterns outside their houses to guide the spirits back home. Once Obon concludes, floating lanterns are then sent out in bodies of water to help guide the spirits back to where they came.
In addition to remembering ancestors, Obon is a celebration that brings families together, with many communities holding public festivals. Attendees can enjoy games, food vendors, bonfires, watermelon smashing, and a folk dances known as bon odori (Obon dance). These dances vary from region to region in Japan, and Japanese immigrants in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and other countries have created new dances as well.
Obon is sometimes celebrated in July, and sometimes August. This is because it is meant to be observed in the 7th month of the year, which varies depending the calendar you follow. Under the lunar calendar, August is the 7th month of the year, while the solar calendar recognizes July as the 7th month. Many areas still choose to host Obon festivals in August.
Fast Facts About Obon
- Because of Obon’s Buddhist roots, many celebrants have altars for their ancestors inside their own homes.
- Many dances come from a theme, from the classic Tanko Bushi (Coal Miner’s Dance) to pop culture inspired dances like the Pokemon Ondo and Baseball Odori.
- Brazil holds the largest Obon festival outside of Japan, an outcome of Brazil’s close historical relationship with Japan and the popularity of dancing in Brazil.
- Obon is one of Japan’s biggest holidays. Other notable holidays include Oshogatsu (New Year’s) and Golden Week (a series of holidays during one week in Spring).
- An area of Kyoto ends their Obon festivities with monks lighting huge bonfires on 5 mountain sides in shapes of kanji to help guide the spirits back. These fires are called Daimonji.
For info about our Bon Odori Dance Practice click here.
For more info on our Obon Festival event click here.