In Japan, this month is Obon, the 3-day Festival of Lanterns. This Buddhist and Shinto celebration honors the dead. It is a time when homes, altars, shrines and tombs are cleaned and decorated. Gardens are hung with lanterns to light the way of the dead so that they can join their families for the festival.

Obon (also just Bon) was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. But Obon celebrations vary in different parts of Japan and the world since the lunar calendar is no longer followed. In many regions of Japan, Obon is celebrated from August 13 to 16.

Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed but it has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. The spirits of those ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars.


The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down rivers symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits’ return to the world of the dead. This ceremony usually culminates in a fireworks display.

In the United States, the “Bon season” is an important part of the present-day culture and life of Hawaii. Bon Odori festivals are also celebrated in North America, particularly by Japanese-Americans or Japanese-Canadians affiliated with Buddhist temples and organizations. Buddhist Churches of America temples in the U.S. typically celebrate with both religious Obon observances and traditional Bon Odori dancing.