2020 Philadelphia Obon Festival

The 8th Annual Philadelphia Obon Festival is dedicated to those affected by the unexpected events this year. We welcome you to enjoy a day’s worth of activities including making recipes of Japanese summer sweets, dancing, and, to end the day, a live-stream of Shofuso’s first-ever lantern ceremony beneath the darkening sky at Shofuso’s pond.

What is Obon?

Obon—or the less formal Bon—festival is a Japanese Buddhist way to honor and commemorate the spirits of ancestors. A major aspect is a reunion of family to their ancestral or family home, where the spirits of ancestors will return from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year. Because Japan changed its lunar-based calendar to the solar-based Gregorian Calendar that we recognize today, this time period is interpreted differently depending on the region in Japan, creating three different times of observing the holiday. Obon is said to have been inspired by a story where a Buddhist disciple uses his supernatural powers to contact his deceased mother. 

Read the whole story of Obon, learn Obon vocabulary, and see photos from last year’s festival here: What is Obon?

Yukata Display at Shofuso

This week, leading up to Obon, long-time JASGP members and volunteers Tamiko Laincz and Terry Sherwin set up a beautiful display of summer kimono (yukata) at Shofuso. Tamiko and Terry have shared their knowledge of Japanese culture through various demonstrations and activities at Shofuso. Over the years, they have demonstrated kimono dressing on Children’s Days, helped decorate the house for Oshogatsu (New Year) and Otsukimi (moon viewing) and helped at many other events.

We are deeply grateful to Tamiko and Terry for their support and for these beautiful displays.

Tamiko Laincz grew up in Japan and is an active member of KyoDaiko (Japanese taiko drumming) and Toco (Japanese taiko drumming and flamenco collaboration). She holds a kitsuke license to teach kimono dressing.

Terry Sherwin, a former art teacher, has practiced Chado in the Urasenke tradition of Tea for more than twenty years. She takes part in the monthly public tea demonstrations at Shofuso and has served as a guide at the house. 

Obon in Kobe, Japan

On October 17, 1986, the City of Philadelphia and Kobe, Japan signed a Sister City Agreement. Kobe has a similiar population to Philadelphia and has celebrated Obon in the colorful and urban Meriken Park for the last 27 years. Though they had to cancel the festival this year, we offer many thanks to the City of Kobe for sharing with us some video clips and photos from previous festivals.

See photos from Kobe’s Obon festival here: Obon in Kobe, Japan

Philadelphia Obon Festival Virtual Marketplace

To give our festival participants the full Obon experience in 2020, we have invited some of our favorite merchants from the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival and Obon Festival to showcase their Japan-focused merchandise. Check out the Marketplace below to find great gift ideas or just something special for yourself.

Check out the marketplace here: 2020 Philadelphia Obon Festival Marketplace

Japanese Summer Sweets Recipes

Obon Festival would not be the same without some treats. Shofuso’s friend and supporter Shoko Kato has shared her recipes for foods eaten during the summer months in Japan. Shoko started making Japanese sweets for her Chado (tea ceremony) practice about 5 years ago, and says that “Japanese sweets often reflect season and cultural practice, so I enjoy introducing the culture to my tea friends (and eating the sweets).”


See the recipes in English here: Japanese Summer Sweets Recipes

See the recipes in Japanese here: 夏のお菓子レシピ

Cucumber Horse and Eggplant Cow Crafts

During Obon, families make offerings of food and drinks for ancestors to “come back home” to enjoy with them. However, there are two foods that are set out that play a more-important role than being an offering: the cucumber and the eggplant. A staple of Obon, the cucumber horse and eggplant cow are shoryoma, or spiritual conveyances, representing vessels or spirit animals, which ancestors to travel back home and then back to their world.

Learn to make your own Cucumber Horse and Eggplant Cow here: Cucumber Horse and Eggplant Cow

Bon Odori Dance Lessons

Bon Odori, or Obon-festival dance, has a long history, spanning almost 600 years. For example, citizens of Tokyo would dance to the folk song, “Tokyo Ondo,” while “Awa Odori” is famous in Tokushima in Shikoku Prefecture. Although this folk dance is practiced throughout Japan, many regions have their own music styles and dances. (Each region is listed in the parenthesis with the accompanying video below.)
Special thanks to the Mochizuki family for sharing these dance lessons with us today.
望月啓佑 Keisuke Mochizuki
Keisuke travels around the East Coast in search of Bon-odori festivals while working in New York City as an expatriate for a Japanese company.
望月ルネ Renée Mochizuki
Renée is a great mom and wife of the Mochizuki family. She enjoys cooking. Renée’s Japanese food is amazing.
望月桐士朗 Toshiro Mochizuki
Toshiro is a boy born in the Mochizuki family last November. He likes to clap his hands since he danced Tanko-bushi with his dad.


Yagi Bushi (Gunma)

Tanko Bushi (Fukuoka)

Hokkai Bon Uta (Hokkaido)

Soma Bon Uta (Fukushima)

Learn more about the Bon Odori dance here: Bon Odori Dance Lessons 

Floating Lantern Ceremony (August 22, 8pm)

For the first time ever, Shofuso hosts a Floating Lantern Ceremony to conclude the Philadelphia Obon Festival. In Japan, the tōrō nagashi ceremony is held on the final night of Obon to guide the souls of the departed to the spirit world. A small group of in-person guests will dedicate the lantern to a loved one and set it afloat on Shofuo’s pond. Head over to our Facebook page at 8pm as we send out thirty lanterns, each dedicated  in a beautiful display of light beneath the night sky.

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