Obon: Bring Back Our Dead

Aug 12, 2020Blog, Culture, Festival

Obon: Bring Back Our Dead

One of the most important holidays in Japan is smack dab in the middle of sticky and humid August, and this is known as “OBON”.

Coming from an occidental society, I thought these custom to be strange at first, but as I came to understand more and more about the meaning of OBON, I found the concept deeply fascinating as I do many things here in the Land Of The Rising Son.

The Japanese worship their ancestors, which is also common in many other Asian countries. For example in Cambodia, I found a high correlation between the Cambodians and Japanese in regards to their ancestor worship belief systems.お墓The Japanese traditionally return to their hometown (furusato or kokyo), in which they still feel a deep attachment, unlike what one may think about their own hometown when looking at it from an occidental perspective. 

There, the souls of the ancestors are brought back from the family graveyard to the ancestral home, where they are celebrated with food and sake offerings upon the family altar, for which their spirit will reside during this three day festival.仏壇The descendants will offer incense upon the alter as they pray to their ancestors, thanking them for their sacrifice and perseverance. 

Culture point: Remember never to blow out the incense you are about to offer to your ancestors, you must wave them in the air to extinguish the flame, blowing them out like a birthday candle is extremely poor etiquette.

I recall, when visiting someone’s ancestral home for the Obon holiday, the children of the neighbourhood dressed in happi coats and fundoshi, would go to each door and pounding the taiko and chanting for the ancestral spirits of the household. Obon traditions vary from region to region and this particular unique experienced occurred in the rural hinterland of Ibaraki prefecture.ハッピThere is also exquisite dancing during this period know as “Bon Odori, which dates back some 600 years. It is during this dancing where the ancestors and the sacrifices they made for us are remembered and appreciated. 盆踊り-02

I truly believe if you worship anything, it should be your own ancestors, who, by virtue of you dear reader reading this post, persevered under extraordinary circumstances to pass their DNA along to you. Now this is something to really be thankful for, don’t you think so?

Why not celebrate one’s own ancestors and the unique heritage right here and now. 

You can reach out to your elderly, who are sooner rather than later going to become one’s ancestor. You can tap into their depth of experience, while you still have time to share with them in the flesh. 

I’d like to give a shout out to my ancestors on both my occidental and Japanese side, for persevering and passing their incredible gift along; one’s one and only life. 

Bonus: I wrote a blog about how the Japanese view death.


Here’s how to dance Bon Odori