In Japan, August is the month for Bon Odori traditional dance festivals. It is the time of year for Japanese to remember and honor their ancestors and to celebrate their eternal presence in their daily lives.
Bon Odori is widely practiced on Obon nights at streets, parks and gardens, wearing colorful yukatas (summer kimono) or stylish kimonos, complete with thunderous Taiko drums and magnificent fireworks.
This is a joyous time of the year in every city and town. Bon Odori dances and the music that accompanies them have a highly local flavor, and different regions of Japan have their own proud, unique styles.
Large groups of women (sometimes in hundreds) dance and sing chants in unison.
Dancing on the tips of their wooden geta sandals, steps are sharp and crisp, performed in small movements restricted by tight, colorful kimonos.
Hand movements are highly stylized with graceful skyward gestures.
Obon is a Japanese custom for remembering and honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors. During this time, spirits are invited back home for a family reunion of sorts.
To prepare for Obon, Japanese clean their houses and make elaborate dishes as offerings to the spirits of their dear departed. On the first day of Obon, they make “welcome” bonfires (mukae-bi) outside their houses.
At the end of three days of festivities, they light “farewell” bonfires (okuri-bi) and float lanterns to signal the spirits that it is time for them to return, till they come back again next year.