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At this time of the year, many Japanese take a holiday and meet their parents to hold a traditional ceremony, O-bon.  What is this tradition?  The following is a description from All About website.  Original Japanese text and English translation.

お盆の時期です。お盆とはどんなものか、All Aboutウェブサイトを見てみました。日本語は原文です。


先祖の霊を迎える お盆について

Welcome back ancestors: O-bon



O-bon is a short form of “Ura-bon-e“, a ceremony to hold a memorial service for ancestors on around 15th of July of the old calendar.  Like a New Year, it is said to be one of the important family events in Japan.  It is a combination of a Buddhism event and traditional Japanese religion where spirits of our ancestors come home from the other world, spend sometime with the family and return to the other shore.


Ura-bon-e (Bon Festival): One of the Buddha’s disciples , Mokuren, is said to have been able to rescue his late mother from the hell by giving food to a priest and holding a memorial service for her.  That is to hold a memorial service to rescue the souls suffering from hell.

一 般的に8月13日から16日までを「盆」といいます。お盆の期間は地方によってさまざまですが、7月1日を盆の始まりとする、7月全体を盆の月とする地域 などさまざまです。東京などでは7月15日を中心に行うのに対して、農村地区では農作業の関係上8月15日を中心に行われます。また、13日の最初の日を 「迎え盆(お盆の入り)」、16日の最後の日を「送り盆(お盆の明け)」といいます。

Generally, Bon lasts from 13th to 16th of August.  It depends on the region.  It starts on the first of July in one region or a whole July is regarded as a month of Bon in other region.  In Tokyo, the ceremony is held around 15th of July whereas it is held on around 15th of August in farming regions based on their work.   The first day, 13th, is called “Mukae-bon, O-bon no iri, (welcoming)” and the last day, 16th, is called “Okuri-bon, O-bon no ake, (sending-off)”

Photo: travel.rakuten.co.jp




Typically, a buddhist altar and ritual articles are cleaned and purified to prepare for O-bon.  On O-bon no iri (13th), a special altar for O-bon is set up.

Image: e-sogi.com

August 13: In the evening, a small fire is lit at the gate of a house to welcome back departed souls.
August 14: The offerings are put in the buddhist altar to hold a memorial service for the souls.
August 15: same as above.
August 16: In the evening, a ceremonial bonfire is lit to see off the souls.


In many regions, this ceremonial bonfire is celebrated in a community such as a straw boat or floatable lantern on the water and a well-known Mountain Bonfire in Kyoto.

Photo: JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki blog

Photo: Wikipedia


Among the offerings on the special altar are a horse made of a cucumber and a cow made of an eggplant.  People pray that the souls come home on the horse soon and go back on the cow slowly.

Photo: shokukai.co.jp


Recently, as the modern housing situation limits the space for the special altar in many families, they set the offering in the family altar or on a drawer.  One of the Buddhism sects, Jodo-Shin-shu (True Pure Land sect), believes that all the dead go to Paradise, thus they don’t make the special altar.