Obon is a Buddhist ritual held from Aug 13 to 16. Salaried workers will take a week-off because most of the companies are closed during the Obon season. We believe during this period the spirits of our ancestors return so we go to the graveyard and clean family graves before then. This belief is based on the feeling of respect toward our ancestors.
On the 13th, a special altar is prepared where tablets are placed with our ancestors’ posthumous names, and a cow and horse made of cucumber (cucumber horse) and eggplant (eggplant cow). The ancestors’ spirits are believed to ride on a cucumber to quicken the speed to come back to this world and use an eggplant to slow down the speed to go back to heaven.
Many famous Obon events are held such as Obon dance and bonfires on five mountains. The first day of Obon, we hang lanterns outside our homes to guide the ancestors. On the night of the 16th, we light a farewell bonfire to see them off. In this ‘bonfires on five mountains’ event (also known as Daimonji), bonfires are set on the mountain side to light their way back to the spirit world. But we don’t hold Obon just to welcome the ancestral spirits. We also enjoy dancing in yukata or summer cotton kimono until late at night at the Obon dance event. The purpose of Obon dance is not only to send off the spirits of our ancestors but also to enjoy dancing on hot summer night.