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CULTURE OF

JAPANESE PEOPLE

By Bonita Shanny
Obon or just Bon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased)
spirits of one's ancestors
It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a
dance, known as Bon-Odori.
The festival of Obon lasts for three days; however its starting date varies within
different regions of Japan. "Shichigatsu Bon" (Bon in July) is based on the solar
calendar and is celebrated around 15 July in areas such as Tokyo, Yokohama and the
Tohoku region. "Hachigatsu Bon" (Bon in August) is based on the solar calendar, is
celebrated around the 15th of August and is the most commonly celebrated time.
"Kyu Bon" (Old Bon) is celebrated in areas like the northern part of the Kantō region,
Chūgoku, Shikoku, and the Southwestern islands. These three days are not listed as
public holidays but it is customary that people are given leave.
Obon is a shortened form of Ullambana. It is Sanskrit for "hanging upside down" and
implies great suffering. The Japanese believe they should ameliorate the suffering of
the "Urabanna".
As Obon occurs in the heat of the summer, participants traditionally wear yukata, or
light cotton kimonos. Many Obon celebrations include a huge carnival with rides,
games, and summer festival food like watermelon.
The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are
illuminated and then floated down rivers symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits'
return to the world of the dead. This ceremony usually culminates in a fireworks
display.

Bon Odori (meaning simply Bon dance) (August 1st) is an event held during Obon. It
is celebrated as a reminder of the gratefulness one should feel toward one's ancestors.
Originally a Nenbutsu folk dance to express the effusive welcome for the spirits of the
dead, the style of celebration varies in many aspects from region to region.
Each region has a respective local Bon dance, as well as different music
accompanying the dance. The music can be songs specifically pertinent to the
spiritual message of Obon, or local min'yo folk songs.
There are other ways in which a regional Bon dance can vary. Some dances involve
the use of different kinds of fans, others involve the use of small towels called tenugui
which may have colorful designs. Some require the use of small wooden clappers, or
"kachi-kachi" during the dance. The "Hanagasa Odori" of Yamagata is performed
with a straw hat that has been decorated with flowers.
The music that is played during the Bon dance is not limited to Obon music and
min'yo; some modern enka hits and kids' tunes written to the beat of the "ondo" are
also used to dance to during Obon season. The "Pokémon Ondo" was used as one of
the ending theme songs for the anime series in Japan.
The Bon dance tradition is said to have started in the later years of the Muromachi
period as a public entertainment. In the course of time, the original religious meaning
has faded, and the dance has become associated with summer.