All About Japan

What is Obon?

Festivals Summer Festivals

Obon is a summer event during which people welcome the spirits of their ancestors back home. Often held on and around July 15 of the old lunar calendar, Obon is now generally observed during the four days between August 13 and 16.

Obon is considered Japan’s most significant occasion next to New Year’s, and most companies close down operations during this period. Although Obon is observed nationwide, the customs followed and the manner in which it is celebrated can vary considerably depending on the region.

Some people light a “welcoming fire” at their front doors to greet their ancestors and a “send-off fire” to see them out. Others float lanterns down rivers, and still others insert disposable chopsticks or matchsticks into eggplants or cucumbers to create cow- or horse-shaped figures for the spirits of their ancestors to ride home from the spirit world and back again.

In many regions, young and old, men and women gather at temples and shrines wearing yukata (casual kimono) to perform Obon dances, or Bon Odori.