Paper lanterns are placed in the river in Sasebo, Japan on August 17, 2003 to mark the last day of Obon.

Obon (also known as Bon or Bon Festival) is a Japanese Buddhist festival that has some similarities to Halloween. It is said that spirits of the departed return to Earth from the land of the dead during Obon and visit their old homes. The holiday probably has its origins in the Chinese Ghost Festival, although the manner in which the Japanese celebrate Obon is now quite different to the way in which the Chinese mark Ghost Festival.

The holiday has been celebrated in Japan for at least five hundred years. It is a summer festival which lasts for three days. The date on which it starts differs in different regions of Japan. Different municipalities adopted different dates for its start when the Western calendar was introduced to Japan in the 19th century. In most parts of Japan, Obon begins on August 15, in other areas, including Tokyo and Yokohama, it begins on July 15 and in some regions it begins on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, the date of which varies in the Western calendar.

Obon is a time of year when people are supposed to honor their ancestors. Many families mark the occasion by visiting and cleaning their ancestors' graves, as some people do on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day in other parts of the world. As a result, Obon has also become a time of year for family reunions.

Bon Odori Dancer

"Bon Odori" in Osaka, Japan in August, 2004.

The last day of Obon is marked by a ceremony in which illuminated paper lanterns are placed in a river and left to float downstream. The lanterns symbolically tell the spirits of the departed that it is time to leave the land of the living and return to the afterlife. The ceremony usually ends with a public fireworks display.

An important part of Obon celebrations is the "Bon Odori", which simply means "Obon Dance". It is a folk dance in which a line of dancers, usually wearing "yukatas" (light cotton summer kimonos) slowly move around in a circle. The dance exists in many different variations in different regions of Japan. It was originally symbolic of honoring ancestors but, for most Japanese people, it has lost its religious significance and is just a symbol of summer.

In Japan today, Obon is usually marked with carnival type celebrations, often including rides, games and stalls selling snack foods. Unlike Halloween, Obon is not usually considered a scary time of year. Although it is said that spirits of the departed return to Earth at Obon, it is not normally associated with evil spirits returning from the land of the dead. However, new horror movies are always released in Japan before Obon. Watching horror movies is a popular pastime around the time of Obon, largely because they give viewers a chill that helps to relieve them from the summer heat.



"Bon Odori" in Atachi-ku, Japan in 2014.

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