Celebrate Bon Dance Season
Late summer is Obon season. No, not Udon season; that would involve noodles. Obon, or sometimes simply Bon, is a Japanese Buddhist tradition observed in the months of July and August. It is a time when people focus on their ancestors. They might clean family grave sites during this time, or return to their ancestral homes. Supposedly, the spirits of the ancestors are able to visit during Obon, as if the veil between the living and the dead grows thinner. It gives things a slightly Halloween-meets-carnival vibe. Pretty, but a little dark. Obon is an old holiday, celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. Here is a cheat sheet:
Where Is It?
In the U.S., Obon festivities are popular in places where there is a high population of people with Japanese ancestry, such as in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, but you can find Bon festivities across the U.S., in places like Sacramento, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.
What Will I See?
The main event at these is the Bon Odori, the Bon Dance. Participants—and there can be hundreds of them—move in a circle, with dancers moving continuously around a high wooden platform, where the musicians are. The dances are fairly slow and very repetitive, making it easier for newbies to pick them up. There are many famous Obon dances, because they are based on different regional Japanese folk-songs. Performances of taiko drumming add another nice visual and auditory spectacle. You’ll also find plenty of tasty festival foods, like sata-andagi (an Okinawan-style donut), games and lit paper lanterns everywhere.
What Do I Wear?
Many people dress up in yukata: lightweight, cotton robes similar to a kimono style. Casual street clothes are fine, too.
If you are looking for something unique to do in the coming weeks, look into the Bon Festival nearest you. There isn’t anything else like it!