Obon festival is one of the most recognized holidays in Japan. It means ‘the festival of the dead’ or ‘the lantern festival’. It is the day where Japanese honour the dead. Many Japanese visit their family and go to the graves of passed relatives. It starts on the 13th to the 16th of August. This is however a holiday to pay respect to the deceased so it is not quite a celebration. Some customs include lighting lanterns and setting them assail to sea. This is very scenic and beautiful practice and whilst it is a national holiday there is a solemn nostalgic tone to the period.
Others include making miniature horses or cows with aubergine or cucumbers. The legs are made with disposable chop sticks and out place outside one spoor on the first day of the Obon festival with incense. The reason being that the Japanese ancestors would ride on the cows or horses back from this to the other world. The incense smoke is a guide to help them find their way back. After the first day passes these are placed on the Butsudan or shrine, most japanese people own one in their house to commemorate the deceased. The last day is where they are placed by the river bank, however never thrown in the river.
During Obon in many prefectures there are Bon Odori Matsuri which is a dance festival held at the end of July in Tokyo. This is not a summer music festival like in the west but more of a traditional, cultural festival, where one dances to traditional Japanese songs. This is a welcome dance for the deceased. There are in fact thousands of these held over all of Japan. The ‘Ebisu station Bon Odori Matsuri’is one held in Tokyo, where thousands of people gathers each year. The festival is held around a large Yagura stage, surrounded by Yatai or food and drink stands, such as ‘ Yakitori’, ‘roast squid’, ‘yakisoba noodles’, and watermelons. Everyone is drinking beer, and naturally use a Japanese paper fan to keep cool from the summer heat.
There is a darker more eerie side to the festival. It is said to never swim in the open sea during the festival. The myth is that you would be pulled deep into the sea by the deceased spirits. On the other hand from an ecological perspective there is a huge influx of jellyfish, which is also a good reason to avoid the sea at this time of the year.