Obon: A Japanese Summer Festival

In Japanese culture, the beginning of summer marks the start of the Obon season.  The Obon is a summer festival which plays a significant part in Japanese and Japanese-American tradition, bringing together the local communities and Buddhist temples.  The 2013 Obon season in Southern California kicked off last weekend in Sun Valley.

In Japan, most Obon festivities last for three days and are a traditional Buddhist event.  It is a time for families to reunite and pay their respects to ancestral graves.  In the United States, Obon festivals serve the same purpose, but usually take place over a weekend.

Many people go to an Obon festival just to enjoy the festivities and some even dress up in a Yukata, a casual Japanese summer kimono.  There are carnival games for children, as well as various demonstrations and exhibits that add to the cultural learning experience.

The food booths are often very lively with the people working at the booths shouting out the name of their specialty, encouraging passers-by to try their fare.  Typical Obon foods include Okinawa dango (similar to donuts), chili and rice, somen, teriyaki, yakisoba noodles and shaved ice.

One of the main highlights of the Obon is the Bon Odori, or Bon dancing.  A large circle is formed and the dances are performed to odori music with everyone moving around in a line.  Each year, the Obon dances for the Southern California region are selected by a committee and each temple will perform these dances.  The order and number of times each dance is performed is decided by the hosting temple.  In addition to this year’s selected dances, some temples may also choose to include past favorites.

The following are this year’s Obon dances:
1. Bon Odori Uta
2. Hinomaru Ondo
3. Kawasaki Gujo Odori
4. Kyo Mo Egao De Konnichiwa
5. Manmaru Odori
6. Sakura Kappore (Kachi kachi)
7. Tohoku Ondo (The Tohoku Ondo is a newer dance that will be featured in remembrance of the Tohoku natural disaster of March 2011)
8. Tokyo Bon Uta (Uchiwa)

Many churches offer dance practices beforehand.  For information on practices, contact your local Buddhist temple.


*Information Sources:

One Response to “Obon: A Japanese Summer Festival”

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