What is Obon, a Japanese event? What do we do in the day? 日本の行事「お盆」ってなに?なにをするの?


What is Obon?


Obon is an event held once a year to welcome the spirits of ancestors to your home and pray for them. A meal and other foods are prepared for the spirits of the ancestors.



People in the past felt close to the invisible “spirits” of their ancestors and treated them with great care. Perhaps they wanted to communicate with their ancestors.

This event was held around July 15 on the old calendar, but nowadays, it is held in July or around August 15 depending on the region.



On the 13th, we welcome our ancestors. It is called “Shoryo-mukae” or “Mukae-bon.”

A Bon-dana is placed inside the Buddhist altar. Families clean the graves and visit the graves together.

仏壇ぶつだん(the Buddhist altar)

まいり(visit the graves)

What are the decorations and dishes for Obon?



The Buddhist altar is hung with a bright orange fruit called hoozuki, which looks like a lantern.

Flowers from the mountains are used to decorate the altar. For the spirit altar, a rug is made of a grass called “makomo.”




A fast horse is prepared for the ancestors to return quickly from the other world. A “cucumber horse” is made by attaching a cucumber with a screw to its foot.

After the Obon Festival, we prepare a cow so that our ancestors can return slowly to the other world. We use an eggplant with legs attached with toothpicks to make it look like a cow.

This shows that we want our ancestors to stay in this world for as long as possible. These horses and cows are placed on a shelf.



The vegetarian dishes offered to the Buddha include rice (cooked rice), soup, dipping sauce, hijiki (seaweed), cooked beans, sesame paste, kinpira, ganmodoki (deep-fried tofu), and koya-dofu (dried tofu).

Place the chopsticks by the altar so that the ancestors can eat them.



Mukae-bi (fire for welcoming the ancestors) is held at the entrance of the house or at the front door.

At the gate or entrance of the house, ogara (the center of hemp) is burned on an unglazed plate called horoku, and the fire is lit to mark the return of the ancestors without hesitation.




There is also an offering called ” Mizu-no-ko.” Diced cucumbers or eggplants are mixed with rice and placed on lotus leaves.

It is said that the ancestors who return during the Obon season bring back unrelated Buddhist deities and starving ghosts with them. Mizu-no-ko (water baby)” is a symbol of the wish that food will be equally distributed to unrelated Buddhas and starving ghosts. People in ancient times were kind.

I feel that this kind of sense is becoming less and less common in Japanese society today. I wonder why.

What do people do during the Obon?


On Obon, monks are invited, and relatives gather to perform sutra chanting together. I visited my husband’s parents’ home. Our children also join us and greet the monks every year.



Around the 15th and 16th, the spirits of the ancestors are sent to the other world. This is called “Shoro-Okuri” or “Okuribon.”

To send the souls of ancestors back to the afterlife, people float lanterns, which are boxes made of wood or paper and lit on fire, down rivers or into the sea. The people say, “See you next year,” and greet each other.



In the countryside of the Kansai region where I live, there are still houses with a butsudan (Buddhist altar) and a butsuma (Buddhist room). In such cases, the “Obon” ceremony described above is still held.

However, in urban areas, where the nuclear family has spread, many homes do not have a butsuma (Buddhist room) or butsudan (Buddhist altar), making it impossible to hold an Obon ceremony. In Japan, the number of people who have never experienced an Obon event is increasing.


If you have Japanese acquaintances, ask them about Obon events. There may be different and interesting customs depending on the region.

Please share if you like!


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