Obon is an event where a memorial service is held for ancestral spirits. It is held every year from July to August. A feature of this festival is that big festivals are held all over Japan during the Obon.
What is Obon
Obon is a traditional event that has been held since around the year 600. The origin of this event is that Mokuren (Maudgalyāyana) asked the Buddha to teach him how to save his mother from hell. At that time, he was told that he should feed many people, and his mother was actually saved.
The contents of this sutra were passed on to Japan, and now it is a custom to leave offerings at graves, hoping that the ancestors will be happy in the afterlife.
Obon is held during a fixed period. There are two types: the middle of August, which is called Kyubon, and the middle of July, Biibon. Most areas celebrate Kyubon, and only Tokyo and some other areas celebrate Niibon.
The Best Festivals that are Held Around Obon
During the Bon Festival, festivals are held throughout Japan. Here, we will introduce festivals based on each region.
Festivals in Tohoku Area
The Sendai Tanabata Festival is held annually from 6-8th August in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, which is located in the northern part of Japan. At the Sendai Tanabata Festival, it is possible to enjoy the decorations made of luxurious and beautiful Japanese paper on huge bamboo which was cut from the mountains that is more than 10 metres long. There are also stalls lined up selling many specialties from Miyagi. You can eat grilled beef and salmon kamaboko made from minced fish.
In Tohoku area, the Aomori Nebuta Festival is held from 2-7th August annually. At the Aomori Nebuta Festival, Dashi floats carrying large dolls made of wire and thread parade around the city. The paintings drawn with ink are impressive and you are sure to be overwhelmed by their delicacy and magnificence.
Festivals in the Kanto and Koshinetsu Area
In the Kanto and Koshinetsu area, the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival is held every year during Kyubon from 11-15th August. The Fukagawa Hachiman Festival is a grand festival that is said to be one of the Three Great Edo Festivals. Particularly, the main festival, which is held once every three years, has about 120 Mikoshi of various sizes.
Furthermore, the summer festival called Sawarano Taisai Summer Festival, which is held in Niibon, is also a must-see. This festival is characterized by a view of a gorgeous stall with a three-dimensional doll, a float called a Dashi.
Festivals in the Kansai and Tokai area
In the Kansai and Tokai area, the Gion Festival is held at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. The Gion Festival is held for one month annually from 1st-1st July, and has a history of around 1100 years. The highlight of the tour is the Yamaboko tour, which was assembled on July 17th and 24th, using only ropes without a single nail, and is registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
In Kyoto, they have not only the Gion Festival, but also the powerful event Gozan no Okuribi can also be enjoyed. You will surely never forget the gigantic characters written in flames that rise up on the mountains.
Festivals in the Shikoku and Chugoku Area
In the Shikoku and Chugoku area, Tokushima City's Awa Odori is well-known. It is held every year around 12-15th August . Awa Odori is an event where people dressed in Japanese-style fashion such as Yukata and Geta clogs set up in various locations around the city and dance. If you are interested in a large-scale dance festival with people in kimono, please come and visit!
Also, the Yosakoi Festival in Kochi Prefecture is also noteworthy. Yosakoi dances use a clapping instrument called Naruko. You are sure to be charmed by the synchronized dancing of approximately 100 dancers.
Festivals in the Kyushu and Okinawa area
In the Kyushu and Okinawa area, the Yamaga Lantern Festival in Yamaga, Kumamoto Prefecture is well-known. It is held every year around 15-16th August. In this festival, you can enjoy the dances of women in Yukata wearing lanterns , a lighting fixture that has existed since ancient times in Japan, on their heads. The scenery created by the light of the lanterns on their heads extremely appealing, so please check it out!
In Okinawa, Eisa Festival will be held on the whole island at the end of August. The Eisa Festival will be attended by various Okinawan organizations across the island and they demonstrate the traditional Okinawan performing art Eisa.