Bon Odori, the Japanese Summer festival to welcome the spirits
Around the end of July (the 15th day of the 7th lunar month) when the heat hits Japan, when the cicadas sing all day long, flowers bloom and the streets became busy after the sunset the Obon Festival AKA Bon Odori or Bon Dance takes place on the Kantō region.
The festival lasts for three or four days, however the starting date it’s different depending on the region as some of them use the sun based calendar instead of the moon one and its held at Shrines, temples or public squares.
Welcome fire, mukaebi 迎え火
On the first day of Obon the mukaebi 迎え火 or Welcome fires practice takes place. During which people lit paper lanterns, make small fires in front or inside their houses. The purpose of this practice its to guide the spirits back to their home.
Food, sake and sweets Ozen 尾瀬
Inside Japanese homes offerings of food sake and special hand made sweets (as lotus flower shaped ones) are offered at Family’s altar to the spirits.
Ancestors grave visiting and cleanup Ohakamairi お墓参り
Obon it’s also a time for families to visit the graves of their ancestors and pay respect. Its also the time of cleaning up the gravestones brushing away the stains and removing weeds.
Bon Dance are religious and spiritual acts. They are performed around a 2 floor tower shaped structure called Yagura. The structure helds dancers on the bottom floor and people playing taiko drums 太鼓 on the upper one.
The dancers usually wear summer kimono called yukata 浴衣 and they dance around the Yagura performing the same steps simultaneously.
Japanese view of Afterlife
Obon is an event that brings communities and families together. Its also focuses on the importance of returning to our roots and to be closer to the spirits of our dearest ones.
There is lots of delicious food at this festival that you can get on the go, such as Yakisoba, yakitori, kakigouri, takoyaki… It’s normally not expensive and the money you pay its usually to fundraise the festival. There is also entertainment for the kids Kingyo-sukui (goldfish fishing) and shakiteki (an accuracy shooting game) the small ones will have a really good time at the festival.
Sugamo Bon Odori
I had the luck to take part on the Bon-Odori in a small suburb neighbourhood on the North East o Tokyo called Sugamo. The festival its held in this neighbourhood next to the local main shrine.
Local mascots, Sugamon
Japan merchants associations and sometimes neighbours started creating a mascot for each neighbourhood a couple of years ago. Sometimes copyrighted and occasionally with copyleft rights. In the case of sugamo the neighbourhood character it’s a duck called Sugamon.
The purpose of this and other local character it’s to empower the local shops business creating a genuine and recognisable sign of identity.
If you had the chance to visit koshinzuka shopping street at Sugamo area you will have the chance to see a small hut with a funny version of Sugamon’s furry duck butt inside it.