“Obon” is a very important Japanese festival and forms a vital part of Japan’s tradition and culture. Japanese Mythology holds that during this time the ancestral spirits come back to visit and re-unite with their families. During Obon people pray to bring peace to the spirits of dead members of their families. Many who live away from their hometowns return to their families to celebrate this festival.
Since the Japanese used to follow the lunar calendar and changed to the Gregorian calendar during the Meiji era, Obon today is celebrated at different times throughout Japan: On the fifteenth day of the 7th month according to the lunar calendar, July 15th according to the solar calendar, and August 15th, also according to the solar calendar, which is the most widespread date. In the Tokyo area celebrations start on July 15th and the festive season extends all the way to August 15th.
There is a custom of cleaning the houses and presenting the spirits of the dead with various fruits and vegetables. “Chochin” lamps are lit and flowers are arranged at the “Butsudan,” personal Buddhist cabinet shrines found in many Japanese homes. The first day of the festival is generally celebrated by lighting these lamps inside the houses and then visiting the ancestors’ graves to invite them home. On the last day of Obon the spirits are “brought back” to their graves along with the family crest.
For travelers in Japan, the most entertaining part of these festivities are the various types of folk dance performed. The styles vary from region to region but “Taiko” drums keep up the rhythm. Since the larger cities like Tokyo are relatively empty from those who visit their hometowns during Obon, it’s best to travel around and stop by shrines and parks in different regions where the Japanese gather in their traditional “Yukata” dress and dance in a circle around the “Yagura” stages. Besides, July-August in Tokyo is almost unbearably hot and humid.