Obon Festival 2023 in Japan: Meaning, Traditions and Dates

In terms of popularity, the Obon celebration is on par with New Year’s and Golden Week in Japan. The seventh month’s 13th through 15th days are when it is observed. Yet, August is the seventh month on the lunar calendar, whereas July is the seventh month on the solar calendar. 

So, depending on which calendar is followed, Obon is honored on various dates in various areas. Together with New Year and Golden Week, the Obon week in the middle of August is one of Japan’s three main holiday periods.

At this time, domestic and international travel is extremely popular, and hotel prices are rising. Travel activity in mid-August has stretched out in recent years.

What is obon?

An annual Japanese event honoring and recalling dead ancestors is called the Obon festival (sometimes called the “Bon festival”). It is thought that their ghosts visit their family now to say goodbye. Japanese people observe several exquisite rituals around this time to honor their departed loved ones and ancestors.

Obon Festival

Buddhists commemorate the occasion of the souls’ reunion with their family on Earth during the festival of Obon, also known as Bon. Bon is a time for paying homage to and cleaning gravestones, and lighting lamps to guide the souls of dead ancestors back to their places of origin. A time for family and communities to get together is called Bon.

History of the Day

The mythological foundation of obon is Buddhism. According to legend, Maha Maudgalyayana, a student of the Buddha, used his abilities to see his mother after she had passed away and was saddened to learn that she was toiling in the Kingdom of Hungry Ghosts, a gloomy nether filled with pain. 

On the 15th day of the 7th month, as Buddhist monks return from their summer vacation, the Buddha directed his pupil to give sacrifices to them. Maha Maudgalyayana set his mother free in this way, and he rejoiced and danced. The Obon celebration is supposed to have its roots in this dance.

Obon Festival

Around 500 years have passed since Japan first observed Obon. They give their ancestors special attention at Obon. During these days, it is said that relatives and other loved ones who have passed on would return to visit the living.

People frequently go to their ancestors’ graves to tidy and clean them up. During this period, ancestors’ souls are believed to travel to their home altars before returning to their graves.

The traditional festival elements of carnivals, games, and festival meals have all been a part of Obon as it has developed through the years. Participants frequently don yukata, or light summer kimonos, a common festival outfit.

How is Obon celebrated?

Obon is a time to spend with family and honor close relationships. Because it is not a public holiday, many Japanese people embrace this occasion as an opportunity to visit their ancestral homes. 

Obon Festival

The most significant aspect of the festivities is paying respect to ancestors by placing various food gifts at Buddhist altars. To be ready for the arrival of the spirits, it is customary to clean the residences before the start of Obon and layout offerings.

1. Sweeping Graves and Offering Sacrifices

People visit the graves of their ancestors when they travel back to their hometowns from the cities and make offerings, such as flowers and fruits. Cucumbers and eggplants shaped like horses and cows are among the unique offers. They are referred to be the ancestors’ spirit horses. 

The ox is sluggish, while the horse is quick. As a result, they offer cucumber horses on the first day of summoning the spirits home and eggplant cows on the last day of accompanying them to their final resting places. It conveys the people’s want for their ancestors to return fast and depart gradually.

2. Bon Odori

“Bon Odori” describes the customary dances presented during the Obon festival. There are several ways to interpret this custom, depending on the locality. The region may influence a Bon Odori dance’s dancing form it originates from. 

For instance, the Tanko-bushi dance was motivated by a song from the former coal mining community of Tagawa City with the same name. The steps are based on how coal miners move and are called “Coal Miners’ Song” in Tanko-bushi. They involve pulling the cart, excavating, and tossing the coal basket onto your back.

3. Mukaebi / Okuribi

The Mukaebi is a fire traditionally started in the forest on August 13 evening. However, it is now being done close to residences. The sputtering flames of varied sizes greet the ghosts of the dead and point them in the right direction. The festivities officially start with the Mukaebi. 

The fire known as Okuribi directs the ancestors’ ascension from this realm. The most well-known is unquestionably Kyoto’s Gozan no Okuribi, which is started near the conclusion of the Obon and frequently on a mountainside.

4 . Vacation Spots for Obon

During the year, Obon is celebrated in many different cities around Japan. Koyoto, Gujo, and Hokkaido are popular places to visit during Obon and are all accessible with the Japan Rail Pass.

 Obon offers fantastic picture, celebration, and cultural immersion opportunities. Renting a portable Wi-Fi device will enable you to keep up with the weather and holiday news while planning your trip and maximizing your experience of Obon while in Japan.

What food do we consume at Obon?

OBon offers Takoyaki, ohagi, dango, okonomiyaki, kakigori, and other delicacies, much like they are during many other national holidays, like New Year and its renowned “osechi ryri.” Several people visit the numerous stalls that line the streets during the yatai festival.

Although the custom is not strictly followed, many Japanese people consume vegetarian fare during the festival. Other superstitions and traditions include avoiding taking photographs at night to avoid capturing a ghost, swimming to avoid being drowned by a ghost, not stealing offerings, not hanging your clothing up at night, etc.

When is Obon celebrated?

The dates on which Obon is observed have only sometimes been constant. The lunar calendar used to have a significant role in determining the date, but the arrival of the Gregorian calendar necessitated rearranging this tradition’s timetable.

Nevertheless, hosting Obon in July presented several logistical and technological challenges, the most significant of which was managing agricultural production, which was crucial in July.


Q: What is obon?

 Obon is traditionally seen as a family-oriented holiday, and many people travel nationwide to visit their hometowns.

Q: When is Obon celebrated?

Most of the nation celebrates Obon from August 13 to August 16 (hachigatsu bon), some parts of Tokyo, the Tohoku region, and the Amami island continue to do so in July (shichigatsu bon or kyu bon).


The population is becoming older, and the nuclear family is changing, affecting how people live and pass away. Despite these modifications, obon, like ohigan, is an essential social and cultural ritual connecting individuals to their family and ancestors. 

Combining various ideas about the living and the dead also preserves a wider link to their spiritual heritage. A significant aspect of Hawaii’s current culture and way of life is the “Bon season.” 

The Bon dance celebrations are on the five major Hawaiian islands of Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui, and Hawaii on Saturday nights from June through August. They were first brought there by Japanese plantation laborers.

Leave a Comment