Obon Festival

(redirected from Bon Festival)
Also found in: Wikipedia.

Obon Festival (Bon Festival, Festival of Lanterns, Festival of the Dead)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Buddhist)
Date of Observation: July 13-15 or August 13-15
Where Celebrated: Japan, and by Japanese Buddhists throughout the world
Symbols and Customs: Bonfires, Bon-Odori, Lanterns
Related Holidays: All Souls' Day, Ching Ming, Hungry Ghosts Festival

ORIGINS

The Obon Festival has been observed by Buddhist families in Japan ever since Buddhism was introduced there around 552 B . C . E . Although it was originally celebrated only by the court and noblemen, the celebration eventually spread to the general population. It was a festival in honor of the dead, similar to the Christian ALL SOULS' DAY .

Buddhism is one of the four largest religious families in the world. It is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 B . C . E .), who came to be known as Buddha, or "The Enlightened One." The basic tenets of Buddhism can be summarized in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. The Four Noble Truths are 1) the truth and reality of suffering; 2) suffering is caused by desire; 3) the way to end suffering is to end desire; and 4) the Eightfold Path shows the way to end suffering. The Eightfold Path consists of 1) right view or right understanding; 2) right thoughts and aspirations; 3) right speech; 4) right conduct and action; 5) right way of life; 6) right effort; 7) right mindfulness; and 8) right contemplation.

Although the Obon Festival is still a fairly solemn occasion, people take joy in the knowledge that their dead relatives can return to earth for a visit. Preparations include cleaning houses and graveyards and lighting small BONFIRES to welcome the spirits home. The graves of the deceased are often decorated with the branches of the Japanese umbrella pine (koya-maki), rice balls (mochi), fruit, and incense. In the main room of the house, where the altar is located, a small mat is spread on the floor. The ihai or record of ancestry is placed on the mat, along with appropriate decorations. A miniature fence made of leaves surrounds this arrangement, and a table is set with foods that the dead particularly enjoy, which include potatoes cooked with sesame seeds, eggplant or gourds, sweets, fruits, and cakes. Throughout the three days of the festival, the dead are spoken to as if they were alive and present. On the final day, they are offered special "farewell rice balls" to sustain them on their return journey.

The purpose of the Obon Festival is to keep the memory of the deceased alive and to encourage obedience from sons and daughters. Obon celebrations are held not only in Japan, but in other countries where there is a large Japanese Buddhist population. In the United States, for example, there is a big Obon celebration in Chicago, as well as in several California cities. Obon celebrations take place in either July or August, depending upon the location.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Bonfires

Bonfires are lit outside Japanese homes twice during Obon. At the start of the festival, they are lit to welcome the spirits of the dead as they return to earth to visit the living. On the third and final day of the festival, they are lit to guide the spirits back to their celestial home. Just as certain foods are prepared to satisfy the spirits' appetites, the light of the bonfires is regarded as necessary to help them find their way around.

In Kyoto, Japan, giant bonfires are lit on the mountainsides. They are made in the shape of the character that means "large."

Bon-Odori

The climax of the Obon Festival is the Bon-Odori, or "Dance of Rejoicing," a folk dance that is held in every town, by the light of paper LANTERNS , to comfort the souls of the dead. It was originally a dance of lamentation in which close relatives of the deceased would dance and sing to the music of a flute and a drum. The early Bon dances were performed at a variety of local festivals, many of which coincided with Obon. These other festivals eventually merged, and what began as a religious celebration for the spirits of the dead evolved into a gala festival of dancing.

In Buddhist temples during Obon, dancers perform to the beat of a huge taiko (drum) mounted on a platform. Both men and women wear a light summer kimono known as a yukata, and most carry large sandalwood fans. Sometimes their steps are slow and graceful as they assume postures that resemble living statues. At other times, their bodies sway in unison and spin faster and faster as the tempo of the drumbeat increases. Although some people practice the traditional steps with instructors for weeks in advance, almost anyone can join in simply by following the person in front of him or her. Bon dances, which can continue throughout the night, express the joyous side of the Obon Festival, just as the lantern ceremonies (see LANTERNS ) reflect its more serious side.

Lanterns

Lanterns play an important role throughout the three days of Obon. At night, families go to the cemetery carrying lanterns designed to light the path for the ancestral spirits. Sometimes lanterns are left burning on the graves, casting an eery glow over the otherwise dark cemetery. Lanterns are often left burning in front of each house as well, serving as signposts for both guests and the souls of the departed. Then, on the final day of the festival, little boats with paper lanterns on the bow are set adrift on lakes and rivers. The boats contain the names of the ancestors who are being honored.

The Todaji Temple in Honolulu, which is the only member of Buddhism's oldest sect in the United States, holds a procession of floating spirits in Ala Moana Park during Obon. After a short service in the temple, its members launch several hundred wooden boats, each about three feet long, decorated with colored lanterns and filled with offerings of food and incense and memorial tablets with the names of ancestors written on them. Each family launches one boat-even if it's only a waxed paper carton. The fleet is led by the mother boat or oyabune, which is usually five feet long.

FURTHER READING

Araki, Nancy K., and Jane M. Horii. Matsuri Festival: Japanese-American Celebrations and Activities. San Francisco: Heian International Pub. Co., 1978. Bauer, Helen, and Sherwin Carlquist. Japanese Festivals. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965. Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Obon Festival

Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Eberhard, Wolfram. A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005.

WEB SITE

Shingon Buddhist International Institute www.shingon.org/library/archive/Obon.html

Obon Festival

July 13-15; August 13-15
Also called the Bon Festival or Festival of the Dead, this is the time when the dead revisit the earth, according to Japanese Buddhist belief. Throughout Japan, in either July or August, depending on the area, religious rites and family reunions are held in memory of the dead.
On the first evening of the festival, small bonfires are lit outside homes to welcome the spirits of ancestors. A meal, usually vegetables, rice cakes, and fruit, is set out for the spirits, and for two days they are spoken to as though they were present. On the final day (July 15 or Aug. 15), farewell dumplings are prepared, and another bonfire is lit outside the house to guide the spirits back. The climax is the Bon-Odori, "dance of rejoicing," folk dances held in every town by the light of paper lanterns, to comfort the souls of the dead. Some Bon-Odori dances are especially famous—one being the Awa Odori of Tokushima, which is accompanied by puppet shows and groups of musicians parading night and day.
At midnight some families gather the leftover rice cakes and food and take them to the waterfront. They are placed in a two- or three-foot-long boat made of rice straw with a rice straw sail; a lit paper lantern is on the bow and burning joss sticks at the stern. The breeze carries the boats, sustaining the spirits on their outward trip.
Obon celebrations are also held in Japanese communities throughout the world. About 500 people usually take part in the Bon-Odori in Chicago in July, and there are noted celebrations in several California cities.
CONTACTS:
Japan Information Network, Japan Center for Intercultural Communications
2-7-7 Hirakawacho
Chiyodaku
Tokyo, 102-0093 Japan
81-3-3263-5041; fax: 81-3-3230-4107
home.jcic.or.jp/en/index-e.html
SOURCES:
BkFest-1937, pp. 80, 200
BkHolWrld, Jul 13
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 154, 155, 541, 542, 730, 812, 1051
DictWrldRel-1989, pp. 31, 135, 374
EncyRel-1987, vol. 2, p. 553
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 294
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 457
IntlThFolk-1979, p. 261
RelHolCal-2004, p. 220
References in periodicals archive ?
09) to Osaka and Tokyo in Japan, where guests can join the summer festival celebrations like the Bon Festival which takes place from July to August annually.
Various cultural events will be organized every day: karaoke contest, cooking Japanese dishes, traditional marathon Ekiden 2011, dance Bon festival and many other.
The jumbo jet, bound for Osaka after leaving Haneda Airport at dusk, carried businessmen returning home, holidaymakers and people heading to their hometowns for the Bon Festival.
The festival instead offers the visitor over 700 stalls selling an array of treats, trinkets, games and attire all the while accompanied by Japanese taiko drum performances and Bon festival dances.
The largest attraction of the summer championship at Koshien is that local representatives are fighting tooth and nail in the season of the Bon festival which rouses a sense of nostalgia.
Rambunctiousness guided Ito's folksy Uhkui (1992), intended to honor ancestral spirits during the Bon festival.
Photo: Stick poised, taiko drummer joins flutist in musicians' tower at Hawaii Bon festival
beaucoup moins que] Si on a reussi a organiser un bon festival, c'est grace au travail de toute une equipe qui veillait au bon deroulement de cette manifestation.
The annual exodus for the Bon festival peaked Wednesday as people left for their hometowns to pay respects at the family graves or for resorts to take a vacation.
Some 2,000 visitors came to the Nakatsue sports center on a summer Bon festival day
During the summer Japanese Bon festival to welcome home the spirits of the dead, Adu-Yeboah took an ordinary slow train to visit her friend in Nagoya.