What is Obon? Exploring One of Japan’s Most Important Holidays

During the summer observance of Obon, families in Japan reunite to give homage and thanks to their ancestors, who have returned for a brief visit to the living. Many families set up special altars in their homes decorated with food offerings for these visiting spirits, which may include vegetables, dango (rice dumplings), noodles, and fruits. Candles, special paper lanterns called bon chochin, and incense may also be placed on the Bon Altar. Vegetable animals – a horse made from a cucumber or an ox made out of eggplant – serve as symbolic transport for ancestors to return to the otherworld. At Morikami, we set up a Bon Altar inside the museum to honor our ancestors, including George Morikami. We hope you’ll observe this tradition with us when you visit Saturday, August 16 or Sunday, August 17.

Throughout three days of festivities, communities gather for Bon Odori, folk dancing, to entertain the visiting spirits. Men, women and children dance around a platform stage called a yagura on which drummers and flutists perform.  As the evening progresses, the singing and dancing become more animated.  Lively street fairs complete with games, food, and shop stalls pop up in larger communities. On the final evening, the visiting spirits depart on a journey illuminated by farewell fires—floating paper lanterns.  This ceremony is called tōrō nagashi.

While Obon is a traditional and religious Japanese holiday celebrated exclusively during the months of July or August, we offer a glimpse into Obon as it is celebrated in Japan, with Lantern Festival – a unique fall festival coming up Saturday, October 18. Tickets for members are on sale through August 31 and ticket sales open to the public on September 1. Tickets are expected to sell out and are only available online in advance at www.morikami.org/lanternfest. We hope you’ll join us at our most iconic annual event!

 

We Want You!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go behind the scenes at a Morikami festival, or if you’re searching for a fun way to give back, search no further – volunteering at Lantern Festival gets you Morikami insider status and most of all, supports yours truly!

Volunteer responsibilities range from lantern building to helping out in the galleries and everything in between. We’re looking for individuals, small groups and large groups to help us make Lantern Festival a success. Volunteers are the backbone of our programs and events, so we thank you in advance for being such an integral part in this celebration.

Want to see what you’re in for? Check out the gallery below for snapshots of our volunteers in action and head over to our festival volunteer page to fill out an application. We’ll see you in October!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Memories of Bon – A Festival like No Other

After so many years, it’s hard to recall when the memories were made exactly, but the images remain like postcards from the Morikami in my mind… Every summer, the Morikami closes for one Saturday in August to open in the late afternoon for Obon, the cultural celebration that welcomes back spirits who have passed away for an evening of fun and music.

At the end of the festival, lanterns inscribed with messages to the spirits are set adrift on Morikami Pond, sending the loved ones back to the afterworld, as fireworks light the way.

This year, Bon is August 14 from 4-9 p.m. at the Morikami. If you have never been, wear comfy shoes and clothes, arrive early and marvel at the mix of humanity – because everyone goes to Bon sooner or later. Buy tickets at www.morikami.org/bon

Here are a few of my favorite recollections of Obon:

Bon Memory #1: Dancing in front of the Bon Odori stage with the kimono-clad Chitose Kai dancers should make you feel somewhat idiotic, but it doesn’t. The dancers are so elegant, and they’re all smiling at you, which makes you feel like you’re doing it right – even though you just learned the steps. Just step and wave, step and wave, step and wave…

Bon Memory #2: Standing at the base of the steps leading up to the Museum and the Cornell Café, pondering whether you want a meal with an eggroll from the Café or a piece of meat on a stick with Japanese beer from the fun, food vendors. Roll or stick, roll or stick, roll or stick…

Bon Memory #3: Just how warm and sticky can it get in South Florida on an August evening outside?? The world may never know, but you’re close to finding out…

Bon Memory #4: Seeing the message to your late aunt written on a lantern sleeve floating on the water among the many other lanterns, as you think you “feel” her in the air…

Bon Memory #5: A little boy sits motionless on his father’s shoulders watching the lantern-spirits float away, then tilts his head back and takes in the fireworks, still motionless, in little boy awe.

Bon Odori dancers

Bon lanterns

Obon fireworks