Japanese Calendar Holidays & Festivals

Festival of Souls  (obon)  National Remembrance


T.T., Jul.91 -- Who Ya'Gonna Call? Floating Lanterns Light Up Bon Festival

The Bon Festival (0-Bon Matsuri) is an annual Buddhist event with local activities all over Japan. In the countryside this religious ceremony is usually held during August, (with a particularly large annual celebration in Kyoto in mid-August) however in the Tokyo area, July 13-16 is the most widely recognized period. "(A la Poltergeist:) ... They're he-re!" On the night of July 13th, lanterns will be lit to welcome returning spirits to their former earthly homes, and again on the 16th, for their departure. This is an annual festival which has become one of the largest annual nation-wide Buddhist celebrations - though many lanterns will be lit in private homes.

At some locations believers will place small lantern ships to float down rivers or out onto lakes and ponds, as colorful beacons to help guide the returning spirits. Lively Bon dances and burning incense usually accompany the public festivities. You can participate in the celebrations or merely watch at the following locations:

At Ueno Park (NW of Ueno Station, accessible by either JR, or via Hibiya & Ginza subway lines) there will be nightly Bon Odori dancing and decorations for three weeks, from about July 1 lth till early August. And on the 17th, at dusk, hundreds of small lanterns will be set adrift in the still waters of Shinobazu Pond. This part of the Bon celebrations is called the Summer Evening Festival (Edoshumi Noryo Taikai). [There is also now annual bon odori dancing in the large public space in front of Shinjuku's City Government building (To-cho), about 5 minutes due West of the station.]

On the evenings of July 13 & 14 (Sat. & Sun.) at the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace (the area of the waters called Chidorigafuchi, near the Budokan) will be the Lantern Offering (Toro Nagashi). It is a few minutes walk West from Kudanshita Station, on the Tozai Line.

The Soul Festival (Mitama) will be held at the well known Yasukuni Shrine from July 13th to the 16th. Literally thousands of paper lanterns will decorate the grounds. Bon Odori dancing, Noh performances, fragrant burning incense, and a host of trinket and food vendors will all contribute to the gala atmosphere. It promises to be a truly memorable cultural occasion. The closest public transportation is 1/2 kilometer NW of Kudanshita Station on the Tozai Line. (By Paul Abramson)


The 0-bon Festival (an annual Buddhist celebration) brings out the best in dead pan but high-spirited festivities. In other words, this festival (usually celebrated in August in much of the rest of Japan) is when ancestral spirits return home to the countryside.

So remember that dearly departed uncle or "in-law" who you said all those nasty things about last month? Well Jack, you'd better write down the number for "Ghostbusters" because you may just need it! Around July 13th each year the dead spirits are welcomed back home; and three days later they depart again. The night of the departing is often accompanied with floating lanterns, lit and set in nearby waters.

The Toro Nagashi (Lantern Offering) by the Imperial Palace will be one of the most beautiful. In the early evening of July 17th (Friday), take the Tozai or Hanzomon Subway Line to Kudanshita Station and ask the way to the "Chidorigafuchi" part of the palace moat. Another main location, easily accessible, is near Ueno Station at Shinobazu Pond on the same evening. If the weather is nice, the hundreds of floating lanterns reflected on the still waters should make for a picturesque evening stroll. (by Paul Abramson)

T.T., Aug.92 -- Since we're neighbors, let's eat junk food!

From Thursday August 13 to Saturday August l5, the Fukagawa Matsuri will be held at the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine. The three-day festival will have entertainment and numerous temporary stalls selling food, drinks and trinkets. There will also be several large portable shrines on display. Every third year there is a large parade where the (mikoshi) portable shrine bearers are hosed down throughout the six kilometer parade route. Next year, 1993, will be the next anniversary for this parade.

To get to the festival, take the Tozai Line to Monzen Nakacho Station. Follow the main street (Eitai Dori Ave.) east for about four to five minutes. The Tomioka Hachiman-gu Shrine (a.k.a. Fukagawa Hachiman) is on the left side (north) of the street. The festival will start early each morning and continue all day. (by Paul Abramson)

T.T., Aug.91 -- Blame It On Rio?

On Friday evening, August 30th, the Asakusa Sanba Carnival, will commence - with a parade, balloons, fun booths, and a real carnival atmosphere! But the hot weather will not be the only thing to get you "hot", as the festive parade will feature a host of amateur participants wearing (and sometimes not wearing...) gala costumes; sure to leave the spectators in an "excited" mood. Throw in a few beers, on a hot summer evening, and you got yourself a unique Tokyo experience that you're sure to long remember ( ... now if you'd just be able to get that silly grin wiped off your face).

The parade route will follow Kaminarimon Dori (Avenue), and Umamichi Dori (Avenue), to the South and East of Asakusa Temple. (Take Ginza or Toei Asakusa Line to Asakusa Station, East of Ueno.) The parade should be easy to find, just ask one of the crowd of Tokyo Today staff members who will be walking in that direction. (Oh the pains of having to work on a festival night! The head editor is such a taskmaster!... But., dedicated as we are, with cameras in hand, a generous accompaniment of reluctantly-willing staffers will be out, trying to get a plethora of full color photos, you can be sure.) (by Paul Abramson)

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