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Obon: Japan’s Buddhist Festival of the Dead

Maggie Kelly

Within the Japanese Buddhist community, this week marks a special Zen Buddhist celebration across Japan called Obon.

A little less than half of the population of Japan identifies as Zen Buddhist which makes it the second most common religion after Shinto. With millions of followers, Buddhist holidays are large and important in Japanese culture. Over these next few days, Japanese Buddhists will celebrate Obon, a uniquely Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor one’s ancestors. 

Much like the latin American holiday of Dia de los Muertos, Obon is a holiday that celebrates the life of those who have passed as opposed to it being a morbid or sad holiday.The festivities are a way to mourn with loved ones while showing thanks for those who have passed, whether it was hundred of years ago or very recently. It is also common for Japanese families to hold reunions during this time and spend time visiting and cleaning the gravesites of loved ones. The Obon tradition makes it a popular season of travel as people journey to and across the island nation to see their distant loved ones. 

Also known as “Bon,” Obon is a huge gathering of millions full of activities, lantern displays, vendors, traditional music and dance and much more.  Buddhist temples will often serve as host for some of the festivities as well where monks leave offerings for visiting spirits.

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