O-Bon Festival - Japan

O-Bon Festival - Japan



Today marks the start of the traditional three day celebration of the O-Bon (お盆) or Bon () Festival in the Kanto and Tohoku regions of Japan.

In 2009 I was living in a very shitamachi-jyōcho (下町情緒) area of Ikebukuro in Tokyo where the festival was duly celebrated by the local neighbourhood. A tiny park area near our apartment was taken over with small stalls selling food or offering children’s games, and in the centre a scaffold tower, called a yagura ( or 矢倉), had been constructed. Atop the tower a taiko (太鼓) drum had been set up, below which was a platform that encircled the tower. Loud music was playing from speakers set up around the space, and there were paper lanterns hung from poles and from the trees. Many of the people attending wore traditional, colourful yukata (浴衣), a light cotton summer-style kimono.

The Bon Festival, is the Lantern Festival or the Festival of the Dead. It is the traditional day of the Buddhist calendar on which the Japanese people remember their ancestors. It’s a day to come together, reuniting with family and the local community at home; a time to tend the ancestral graves, and a time when the ancestral spirits are supposed to visit the ancestral shrines in people’s houses. It’s a tradition which is believed to go back as far as 500 years. The month in which Bon is celebrated depends of which type of calendar (lunar or solar) the particular area follows, consequently other parts of Japan hold the festival in August.