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Japanese Summer – A Season of Fireworks and Dance Festivals 2

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/12 Traditional Culture , , ,

In our previous post, we featured fireworks as one of the things you usually associate to a Japanese summer. But summer is not only about fireworks, it also means commemorating one’s dead ancestors and summer dance festivals.


In Buddhism, they believe that the spirits of their ancestors visit their living relatives yearly and it is during the Obon (お盆). Originally, Obon is celebrated around the 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. Nowadays, it is different in various regions. Many regions though celebrate it around August 15. This year, some regions will celebrate it starting August 13 to 15 and some companies have no work on those days.

During the Obon, the Japanese will clean their houses in preparation of their ancestors’ visit. They also put food offerings in front of Buddhist altars. They also hang Chochin lanterns in front of these altars and are lit during the first day to call their ancestor’s spirit back home. On the last day, the lanterns are lit again but this time in the entrance of the house to guide the spirits back to their world. These chochin lanterns are usually painted with family crests. During the Obon period, Japanese houses are filled with the smell of incense.

Chochin Lanterns

Chochin Lanterns like these are lit inside the house during the first day and in entrances during the last day. (Image by _e.t on Flickr)


During Obon, houses and cemeteries are filled with the smell of incense. (Photo by Carlos Alejo on Flickr)

In some places, people end the commemoration by floating lanterns with lit candles along rivers. This tradition is called the Tōrōnagashi (灯籠流し). This also serves as sending the ancestors’ spirits back to their world.

Bon Odori

During nights of Obon (or anytime during summer), Bon Odori or the Bon Festival Dance are practiced. People dance to Japanese folk dances with the Taiko (Japanese traditional drum). Bon Odori are usually held at parks or any open spaces where the neighborhood gathers.

bon odori

People gather in open spaces and parks and dance traditional Japanese music.

bon odori

Anyone can join the dance, old or young, male or female, and even non-Japanese are invited to these events.


The usual Bon Odori setting: a stage, where the singers and performers are on, is setup on the center. Lanterns are hang from the center. And the dancers are dancing encircling the stage.

bon odori

The dance is accompanied by Taiko. The music that is played also varies from region to region.

Bon Odori Music

The dances and music are also different in each area in Japan. There’s the “Soran Bushi” of Hokkaidō, the “Tokyo Ondo” of Tokyo, “Kawachi Ondo” of Kansai Area, and others. A place in Gifu Prefecture called Gujō is known for its all night dancing during Bon Odori. The dance steps also may depict the area of where it is dance. The Tankō Bushi (lit. Coal Mining Song) shows the movements of miners: cart pushing, digging, etc. It is danced in Kyushu area where the Miike coal mine, the largest coal mine in Japan before it closed in 1997, was located. The music that is played during the Bon Odori is not limited to Obon music. Some min’yo and enka, genre of Japanese traditional music, are also played.

To experience Bon Odori, visit Japan during summer which is around July to September.





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