Dead Love: Japan’s Festival of the Dead

If you are not already aware of it, this Saturday, all over the world, another Festival of the Dead begins. It is Obon or the Bon Festival, and it’s a time when the spirits walk … generally they find their way home to their families and friends, so get ready!

Obon is supposed to be celebrated on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, which puts it at either the 15th of July or the 15th of August, depending on your counting. Here, in the U.S., it’ll be happening on Saturday, July 31. It is one of the most important Japanese festivals and there is a crazy atmosphere in Tokyo at this time. Yeah, it’s kind of scary with phosphorescent obake (ghosts) and oni (devils) twisting in the wind. Offerings are made. Dances are danced. And, once the dead have had their little party, they are sent on their way with fires and paper lanterns to scare them off or show them the path, depending on how you look at it.

A poem in honor of Obon from the haiku poet, Shinga, who died in 1843, six days before the beginning of the Bon Festival:

Urabon ya,
shinde yuku ni wa
yoi jibun

Festival of the Dead:
a fitting time
to die.

—Erin Orison, DEAD LOVE/the Daily Slice