How can you describe the Obon holiday?



「お盆」とはもともと容器のこと!? Obon literally means a container

An "obon" was originally a container with which people served an offering to numina. According to one explanation, it is the name used for the spirit of the ancestors at the memorial service. In some regions, fires called mukae-bi are lit on August 13th at the entrances of houses, to guide the spirits of the residents' ancestors home. Some people make a horse out of a cucumber and a cow out of an eggplant, and use them to decorate their altar and welcome their returning ancestors, before seeing them off again on the 16th.



日本独自の長いお休み A unique vacation season in Japan

Because of welcoming of spirits of our ancestors, this is a very important family gathering season. It is also a time when most Japanese people can take a long holiday, so many people go traveling during Obon. Many Japanese companies also shut down at this time. Since Obon is unique to Japan, people who have business with foreign companies often have to explain the reason why they are closing. Let's take a look at some Obon customs.



迎え火/Fires to welcome the spirits of ancestors

Fires in the late afternoon on the 13th of August are called mukae-bi; and they are said to be a guide for the spirits of the ancestors. After the mukae-bi ceremony, we make an offering of food, flowers and so on. In some regions, hanging chochin displaying the family crest are used to guide the spirits.



送り火/Fires to guide ancestors' spirits back to the grave

The okuri-bi fires on the 16th are lit to send the ancestors' spirits back to the grave. Gozan-okuri is one of the famous okuri-bi. In some regions, okuri-bi is held on the 15th.



灯篭(とうろう)流し/Floating lanterns

In some regions, ancestors' spirits are sent off by floating lighted lanterns down rivers to the ocean, because it is believed that spirits exist in mountains and on rivers. Toro nagashi (floating lanterns) is a tradition that Japanese generally tend to find somewhat nostalgic because of the faint light of the candle.



盆踊り/Bon folk dance

Bon odori is widely practiced on the 15th and 16th at night and is one of the climaxes of Obon. People go to their neighborhood bon odori wearing yukata (summer kimono) and dance around a stage. Usually wa-taiko, Japanese drums, beat a rhythm for the dancers.





AnswerThe Obon holiday is a time when the Japanese traditionally welcome their ancestors' on August 13th and send them back on the 16th. Japanese are able to take a long holiday at the time so people often go back to their hometown or travel around.




カナダ・オーストラリアに留学ののち、ボストン大学コミュニケーション学部修士課程ジャーナリズム専攻、東北大学博士前期課程人間社会情報科学専攻修了。通信社の国際金融情報部、出版社にて国内・海外の取材記事や交渉ほかを担当。海外通販会社の役員を経て、諸媒体の翻訳・執筆・プロデュース などを手がける。 著書に『コトバのギフト~輝く女性の100名言』(講談社)、『スティーブ・ジョブズに学ぶ英語プレゼン』(日経BP社)ほか多数。仕事と趣味で旅した国は50カ国を超える。