Tag Archives: Obon



The informant is a 23 year old Japanese male. He was born in Nagoya, Japan where he spent the first half of his life. When he was 13, he came to the United States to attend high school and has been living in California ever since. The informant currently resides in Inglewood, CA and works in animation. The folklore he shared with me is what he experienced growing up in Japan.

Similarly to the Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, in August, there is an event called Obon. The entire thought behind it is that your ancestors, the people you love who have passed away, will be coming back to the living world to visit you for a month, and then they will return to the land of the dead once it is over. When you put out your incense, they can come back to the mortal realm by following the smoke that rises from the incense. We have cemeteries. In it, you will usually find a nook or crevice that holds a metal tray that holds three cylinders. Two on the side are for incense and the one in the middle is for a candle. So you light the candle first, you put the incense over it, and you place it back into the crevice.You can also bring flowers for people who were unidentified when they died, like during a war. 

Another big thing is food offerings, specifically rice or oranges. Another one is for beer and sake. 

You clap your hands, put them togethers and pray for them, perhaps this is just what my parents do, but they say non non. I don’t know what it means, it’s just something that you say when you pray. 

You also clean the stone or granite of the tombstone. You are given a bucket and a ladle, which you fill up with water and use to clean the stone. My parents always used to say that it’s like you’re washing their backs and washing their heads. So I always used to imagine when I went to the cemetery that I was washing my ancestor’s head and back. 

The cemetery where my family is located also has a large section for unidentified people that do not have loved ones to care for them or to celebrate obon with them. You’re not supposed to pray to them, or they can get attached to you, but you can say something very short like non non. So, you splash water onto them, you give them incense, you give them flowers, just to make sure that they are being cared for.

Analysis:Fascination with death is universal. It is an inevitability that all cultures grapple with and attempt to process in their own ways. In order to feel like they have a better understanding of death, as well as wanting a chance to see their lost loved ones again, some cultures have created festivals for this exact purpose. The time of year in which a festival takes place is rarely coincidental and has significance that correlates to the life cycle, as represented by the seasons. Obon is held mid August which represents a time of transition between summer and autumn. A transition between a season where everything is in bloom and thriving, to one that is more symbolic of death or decay.