Most countries around the world celebrate Halloween during the same time frame as U.S. residents celebrate, but that isn’t always the case. Japan celebrates their version of Halloween called the O-Bon festival in the middle of July or August. The O-Bon festival is a festival that celebrates the memory of relatives that have passed away. This is a common theme for festivals in many countries during the Halloween season. The difference is Japan celebrates their holiday much earlier and does not have a specific Halloween celebration at the end of October.
The O-Bon Festival is separated into three different days during the celebration. Certain activities are reserved for each of the days. The celebration itself is named after a legend about a Buddhist monk. That monk found that his mother was hanging upside down in the netherworld due to having eaten meat during her existance on earth and not repenting for it. He was able though to travel there and “buy her passage to Nirvana” by performing his own acts of goodness. This is where the theory of the festival’s theme of making things more comfortable for the deceased comes from.
On the first day relatives will typically visit the gravesites of relatives who have passed away. They visitors will then decorate their gravesites with items to comfort the deceased such as fruit and cakes, and light their way with lanterns on the gravesite.
On the second day, relatives do not travel to the gravesites. Instead they prepare their own ceremonies at their homes for their relatives. Part of the tradition is creating a tamadana which is a type of altar. These are created with woven mats, and have vegetarian dishes placed on them along with carved cucumbers. These cucumbers are carved into the shape of horses, which the souls of the deceased are expected to ride into Nirvanna.
On the third day a celebration of the souls of the deceased relatives is held. This is attended by hundreds of people celebrating together. They dance in slow concentric circles or sometimes in formations of lines. The movement is solemn and once again instead of a true celebration it is a rememberance of loved ones and welcoming their souls. To help the souls find their way to the land of Nirvanna, lighted paper lanterns are set out onto the water. These are supposed to guide the souls to the shore where they will enjoy their afterworld existance in peace.
A World Apart
Japan’s O-Bon festival is clearly different than how United States citizens celebrate the Halloween season. This is common as many countries use the Halloween season to remember their relatives who have departed the planet and express concern for their enjoyment in the afterlife. The difference between the Japanese celebration and those in other countries is that the Japanese celebrations are held months early with no true ceremonies or celebrations around Halloween on it’s traditional date.