Obon Yasumi in Japan

photo source: Wikipedia

Last Monday, I was so surprised when I got in the bus…it was practically empty! The more surprised I was when I saw the main road— there were only a few vehicles and so the usual 25-minute ride to the station took only less than 20 minutes!

At the station, the train was almost empty as well. Then I remembered that it was, after all, the start of Obon Yasumi here in Japan.

August is considered the “ghost month” by the Japanese. Obon Yasumi is something like the Halloween in the United States or the All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in the Philippines which fall on Nov 1 and Nov 2 respectively. However, this Japanese celebration usually lasts for 3-4 days or sometimes a week long in other prefectures.

Some Japanese say that Obon Yasumi falls on the third week of August. But others are more specific. They say it starts on August 13 and ends on August 16. Actually, the date really depends on where in Japan you are.

But what really is Obon? Obon is a Buddhist tradition in Japan that is meant to honor one’s ancestors. My Japanese co-teacher said that for them, it’s not really about ghosts or those entities which we believe to be lost souls. Obon is about being reunited with their ancestors who passed away.

They say that on the first day of Obon, they need to go to the grave sites and bring lanterns or anything that can light the way for their ancestors. This light will guide them on the way back to their homes. Then on the last day, they will have to guide them back to the grave sites. In other places, they would bring the lanterns near the river and they let these lanterns float away to guide their ancestors to the other world.

photo source: Japan Rail Pass

So around this time, the Japanese people go back to their hometowns which is usually outside of Tokyo to honor their dead loved ones, which explains the empty buses and trains in Tokyo. Obon Yasumi is like a big family reunion for most of them.

But for the modern Japanese people who are not very traditional, this is the time to travel outside of Japan wherein they use up their work holidays and the kids enjoy their summer break. Plane tickets to go abroad tend to be higher around this time.

Another interesting thing to note is that during the Obon weekend, Japanese TV shows usually feature ghost stories…and I tell you, these are very scary because for one, they happened in real life!

For this year, Fuji Terebi (Fuji Television, Channel 8) has one on August 18, Saturday, from 9pm to 11:10pm. It has the title Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi ( Scary Stories that really Happened). I always look forward to shows such as this here every year.

The Japanese people have a very beautiful culture. They have a lot of very colorful celebrations and many holidays that are very unusual like Ocean Day or Mountain Day. I will try my best to explain how these holidays came to be and I will share them with you as they happen.

4 thoughts on “Obon Yasumi in Japan

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