Buddhists celebrate Obon every year as a time to remember their ancestors. Every year, during obon, it is thought that the ghosts of the ancestors visit their loved ones in this world. In accordance with custom, food sacrifices are made at home altars and temples, obon dances are done, cemeteries are visited, and lamps are set in front of dwellings to direct the spirits of the departed. Floating lanterns are lowered into rivers, lakes, and seas at the conclusion of Obon to direct the spirits back to their home realm. The traditions are very different in each place.
Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Separate regions of Japan currently have different obon periods. Obon is a festival that normally lasts from August 13 to August 16 and in most regions is celebrated around August 15. Obon is still observed in many parts of Okinawa on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, as it is in some regions of Tokyo around July 15.
Japanese people clean up their homes and place a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, to the ancestors’ spirits in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar). The butsudan typically places chochin lanterns and floral arrangements. Chochin lanterns are lit inside homes on the first day of Obon, and people visit their family graves to summon the spirits of their departed loved ones. It is known as mukae-bon. In some areas, mukae-bi flames are set at home entrances to serve as a guide for ghosts. The last day, folks hang a chochin painted with the family crest to serve as a guide for the ancestor’s spirits as they return to the grave.
On Obon nights, bon odori, a type of folk dance, is also commonly performed. Although dance forms differ from region to region, Japanese taiko drums often preserve the rhythms. People dress in yukata (summer kimonos) and attend neighborhood bon odori events held in parks, gardens, shrines, or temples. Join the circle and copy what the others are doing to participate in bon odori.