“Obon” Buddhist Observance in Japan

local_templeObon is a time to express our gratitude to loved ones who have passed on before us.  It is an annual Buddhist observance observed in the middle of August (13th to 16th plus a weekend).  It is in July in Tokyo and in a few areas, but for most of the Japanese, the middle of August is the Obon period, when families get together and pay a visit to their ancestor’s grave.

People say that Obon is based on a Buddhist belief that departed souls return to their families during this period.  However, Jodo Shinshu school views in a different way.  “Obon is a time of gratitude, giving, and joy in the Truth of Life.”  So, it may be different depending on which school of Buddhism you are in or maybe local “custom.”  Either way, family members get together during this period, and thus it may be comparable to the Thanks Giving Day in the western cultures.

I should also note that the Obon coincides with the anniversary of  Japan’s surrender in World War II, which is August 15.  Although the event does not have any religious meaning, it gives us additional sentiments to stay in peaceful minds.

Since the mass of the Japanese are on the move in Obon season, leaving the cities and visiting the families in the countryside, I do not encourage tourists to visit Japan during this period of about one week, unless they stay only in a large city or dare to go through what common Japanese are putting up with. Encountering big travel peaks in Japan would become your nightmare.

Most businesses manage to stay open for Obon, however, I do not think it is a good timing to visit your Japanese counterparts, if not for an urgent matter.  It’s a Japanese business norm.