A Guide to Obon Season in Japan

If you’re a fan of Japanese restaurants and culture, then you may be interested to hear about Obon season, one of Japan’s major holidays. Obon (or Bon) is a Buddhist event that’s celebrated in mid-August and is held for people to commemorate their ancestors. Use this guide to gain a better understanding of Obon.

Lighting and Hanging Lanterns

Once the first day of Obon arrives, people hang lights and lanterns outside their front doors or inside of their houses to help guide the spirits of their ancestors back home. If someone is celebrating their first Bon holiday after losing a family member, then the lanterns are typically placed outside to better guide the spirit of the deceased on its first journey back home.

Ozen and Grave Cleaning

During Obon, families visit the graves of their ancestors to perform a ritual cleaning of the gravestones. Additionally, people will place handmade sweets, fresh fruit, sake, and green tea on their home’s Buddhist altar, at ancestors’ graves, and at Buddhist temples. Called ozen, these offerings to the dead are intended to treat the spirits as if they were still alive.

Bon Dancing

At many towns and cities throughout the country, groups of dancers practice for months leading up to Obon season. During the holiday, streets are closed off, and Bon dancers perform Bon Odori that began hundreds of years ago as spiritual performances. The dances performed during Obon are some of those that make Japan’s dancing so recognizable.

Saying Farewell

At the end of Obon, people can send off the spirits in several ways. Those who live near water often set out paper lanterns to float down rivers, with each flame representing a departed ancestor. Others light ceremonial fires in the shape of kanji, and some temples hold fire ceremonies.

If you enjoy Japanese culture, teppanyaki, sushi, and hibachi, then visit us at House of Genji. At our Japanese steakhouse near San Jose, we offer a broad range of delicious entrées, side dishes, and cocktails. To learn more about Japanese dining, call us today at (408) 453-8120.