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Obon: The Japanese festival of the dead

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By Shizuka Sakamoto

On a par with celebrating the New Year’s holidays in terms of importance and meticulous preparations, obon — which usually lasts for four to five days around August 15 — is one of the most important family events in the year in Japan. It is often compared to Halloween abroad, though it is quite different in essence and practice.

It won’t appear in red on your yearly calendar, because it’s not an official national holiday, but in practice obon is a summer holiday for everyone and most companies will take a few days off.

August 13 — Mukaebi

Obon begins with the so-called mukaebi practice (welcoming fires), during which people make a small bonfire in front of their houses to guide spirits upon their return back home. Decorating the deceased’s altar with small memorial tablets, fruits, flowers and Japanese sweets is also part of the early preparation stage — a practice used to offer late loved ones objects they enjoyed in their lifetime.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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