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Celebrating Family at the Obon Festival in Japan!

Join Sam & Sofia as they talk about their plans to celebrate Japan’’s Obon Festival with friends!

Japan is currently celebrating the Obon Festival, which is a special three-day Buddhist celebration where Japanese families have reunions to honor their ancestors. This year, our friend Nanami has invited us to join her family for the festivities!

Members of Nanami’s family will come from all over Japan to her home near Tokushima to take part in the tradition. Nanami says her grandmother Amaterasu always decorates the house for Obon with beautiful flowers, special plates of delicious summer vegetables and fruits like suika (watermelon) and lots of decorative paper lanterns.

On the second day of Obon, we’’ll head into Tokushima City for a traditional bon odori (folk dance). In Tokushima, the special name for the dance is awa dori. Nanami says there will be more than a million people there to celebrate!

Just like other traditional Japanese festivals, the streets of Tokushima will be lined with stalls called yatai which sell food like okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes), cotton candy and chocolate-covered waffle sticks. Plus, we’ll get to play Japanese festival games like yo-yo fishing and bouncy ball scooping. There will even be dancers and musicians parading through the streets until the sun goes down.


When the sun has set, the city center shuts down and becomes a huge dance stage. Hundreds of dancers, performing on multiple stages, will break into a rhythm to the sound of gongs and drums. For one dance, called the Fool’s Dance,” they will chant something that translates to “the dancers are fools and the watchers are fools. Both are fools alike, so why not dance?” Just as they say, we in the audience may be invited to join the dance!


At the end of Obon, we will be able to participate in the toro nagashi, or floating of lanterns, which is a ceremony meant to remember our ancestors. We will walk from Nanami’s house to the Yoshino River where we’ll launch glittering paper lanterns on the surface of the water and allow them to float gently to the ocean.

It is truly amazing to think that the decorations, the dance and the festivities have been evolving into the current celebration for more than 400 years. But the most important part of Obon has remained the same, and that is celebrating the importance of relatives, home and the traditions of families.