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Obon  お盆    

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Obon is a summer festival that takes place from August 13th through the 16th. During this four-day period, the Japanese invite the souls of the dead back home. Remembering departed loved ones shares some similarities to Halloween and Mexico’s Day of the Dead, but unlike those Western counterparts, no physical manifestation of dead people is involved. We quietly observe a return of the spirits. It is not a national holiday, but many Japanese take vacation days to visit their hometown and cemetery. To help the deceased souls navigate safely back home, many households leave the light on in their family altar (a small altar with pictures of loved ones, lights, food plates, and incense burner is displayed in many of Japanese households) or put out a paper lantern in front of the house. Some regions have a special ceremony floating out a lit small boat on the river or ocean as a ride for the souls.

Japanese language learning material for beginners and intermediate students
A lit boat, a ride for deceased soul is called shoronagashi

Another ceremony that commonly takes place at many villages or small communities during the festival is called Bon-odori (odori means dance in Japanese). It’s a choreographed dance routine. It started out as a dance to welcome the souls home, but now-a-days, has become merely one of summer traditions. Musicians with traditional musical instruments such as shamisen (a string instrument) or taiko drum play folk music, and a few dancers in yukata (a light cotton kimono) demonstrate the dance routine on the top of a tall platform that is set up in the center of a large public space. The crowds dance circling the platform adhering to the demonstrated routine. The locals, visitors, tourists…everyone is welcomed to join in the circle. You don’t have to wear a yukata, but it would certainly enhance your cultural experience. A yukata is not an expensive item and can be purchased at souvenir shops or department stores. No rhythm or coordination is required, but don’t distract the other participants by creating your own routine or being loud. That would not be appreciated.

日本語会話 初級   

A: 今日(きょう)、午後(ごご)6時(じ)から公園(こうえん)で盆踊(ぼんおど)りがありますよ。いっしょに行(い)きませんか?    

B: 盆踊(ぼんおど)りってダンスパーティーですよね?

A: う〜ん、そうですね〜、ダンスはダンスですが、アメリカのダンスと少(すこ)し違(ちが)います。

B: そうですか。どう違(ちが)いますか?

A: 盆踊(ぼんおど)りの音楽(おんがく)民謡(みんよう)で、しずかな音楽です。そして、みんなと同(おな)じ振り付け(ふりつけ)踊(おど)ります。

B: でも、踊りは得意(とくい)じゃありません。

A: 大丈夫(だいじょうぶ)ですよ。 とても簡単(かんたん)です。 踊(おど)りたくなければ、踊(おど)らなくてもいいですよ。

B: わかりました。じゃあ、行(い)ってみます。

日本語会話 中級

A: 今晩(こんばん)7時(じ)から公園(こうえん)で盆踊(ぼんおど)りがあるらしいよ。いっしょに行(い)かない?

B: う〜ん、ダンスは嫌(きら)いなんだよ。あまり気(き)が進(すす)まないな〜。

A: ダンスはダンスだけど、アメリカのダンスとはまったく違(ちが)うよ。

B: どう、違うの?

A: 音楽(おんがく)は日本(にほん)の民謡(みんよう)で、ゆっくりとしていて、みんなと同(おな)じ振り付け(ふりつけ)で踊(おど)るんだ。


A: 大丈夫(だいじょうぶ)だって。全然(ぜんぜん)難(むず)しくない、踊(おど)りたくないんだったら踊らなくてもいいよ。浴衣(ゆかた)を着(き)た女の子(おんなのこ)もたくさん来(く)るし、屋台(やたい)も出(で)るらしい。

B: そうか。それなら、行(い)ってみよう。

A: 君(きみ)は女の子(おんなのこ)と食べ物(たべもの)には弱(よわ)いんだね。


いっしょに行きませんか Why don't we go together

どう   how. An adverbial pronoun. its' connects to a verb.

音楽(おんがく) n. music

民謡(みんよう) n. a folk song

しずかな na-adj. quiet

同じ(おなじ) na-adj. the same

振付(ふりつけ) n. choreography

踊る(おどる) type1-v. to dance

簡単な(かんたんな)na-adj. easy

たい       masu-form + tai want to do. たくない don't want to do.

ければ      i-adj + kereba conditional use of i-adj.

行ってみる  te-form + miru would try to. I'd try to go.

らしい aux. seems to

気が進まない don't feel like it. usually in a negative form.

ゆっくりと adv. ゆっくり+ part.と. slowly

なきゃならない must なければならない

無理(むり) n. no way

し part. used to list a sampling action.

屋台(やたい) n. a food stand. 出る usually accompanies as a verb.

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Sibylle Thaler
Sibylle Thaler
Sep 01, 2021

Thank you so much for writing this article! I love the quiet and respectful way to honor deceased souls. Also, I am eager to learn the dance you described.


Thanks for the great article. Middle European countries such as Austria have a similar tradition where we honor our loved ones who died. It is al little later in the year, end of November. It is a Holiday and if you would translate it is called ‘A tribute to all souls that died’.

Taisuke Soda
Taisuke Soda
Aug 30, 2021
Replying to

Thank you very much for your kind comments. Is there any special event on the holiday in Austria?

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