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Obon Festival: Respect for One's Ancestors

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The Obon Festival is a celebration of a family's ancestors (grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts) that takes place in mid-July or in August and usually last a week. It is loosely translated to be "Festival of the Dead."

This festival is a Buddhist tradition that says that the souls of the dead return home for three days. The living say prayers for anyone who has died in the past year and also leave vegetables, fruits, and rice wine out, in case their ancestors' spirits are hungry. Red lanterns are hung, both to celebrate the festival and to guide the spirits home.

Many Japanese Buddhists clean their home altars and the gravesites of their ancestors. They also play taiko drums and do special dances called bonodori, which have specific parts that help make their ancestors' spirits feel better during their time back. One city in Japan, Kyoto, even has burning rafts floating on a river. These rafts help guide the spirits back to the spirit world at the end of the festival.

Most Obon Festivals that you might see, however, celebrate the Buddhist culture, with special foods and games. Fireworks and bonfires are common, despite the heat.

Even if you're not Buddhist, you can go to an Obon Festival and celebrate the lives of people who have died recently. You can also celebrate the special food and traditions of Buddhism.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday

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