Traditions remain strong in Japan and one of the important seasonal events is Obon, or in English they say the Bon Festival.  When I was growing up, obon was in mid July, but this year the official date in Japan is in mid-August.  But I guess the date doesn’t matter.  So, what is Obon?  It’s a Buddhist tradition, whereby families welcome their ancestors spirits back to the house.  So, like New Years, they clean their house and prepare foods to honor them.  It’s also a time when families go to visit their ancestral graves and clean them.

I find that having these annual designated dates is a good reminder to get together with your loved ones and honor your ancestors.  Maybe I’m just old school, but as I get older I really think these traditions are a good way of keeping the family together.

When we think about relatives who passed on, it may sound like a sad occasion.  But, with Obon comes the Bon festival.  It’s actually a fun time with everyone dancing outdoors, with music and drums.  When I was a kid growing up in Tokyo, we’d look forward to these omatsuri or festivals because street food and games stalls would suddenly appear in the evenings near our neighborhood.  The games included catching gold fish with a paper scoop or fishing for water balloons.  All good fun!

In Hawaii or here in the Seattle area, the local Buddhist temples organize a Bon Dance or Bon Odori during the summer months.  Now with Covid, some of them have gone virtual.

If you’re interested to check it out, the Seattle Betsuin is having their Virtual Bon Odori this coming Saturday, July 15th at 5:00 p.m.  Here’s the link if you want to participate:

My Grandmother was a devout member of the Hawaii Hongwanji on Pali Highway.  I checked their website and this year they’re having a Bon Dance Drive Thru on August 28th.  I don’t know what that is but you can check out their website here:

Since the Covid-19 virus, the world as we knew it is constantly changing.  It’s surely bringing out a lot of creativity and innovation.  But, it’s good to see that the traditions are still being kept regardless of the circumstances.  And it’s a good reminder for me these traditions such as Obon, of family and community are important to keep us connected with one another.  I think I’ll do my own “obon” in my heart, I think that still counts!




Photo by Takuma Tsubaki on Unsplash

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