What is Obon?

The West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple has posted a wonderfully well-written and informative article by Rev. Patti Usuki on American Obon festivals.

In Japan, Obon has been held since 657 CE. It is observed in July or August. A commonly held belief among people in Japan is that the disembodied spirits of the dead return to visit at this time of year. This belief is not supported by Jodo Shin Buddhists, who consider such a belief to be an unfounded superstition

Most Japanese-American Buddhists belong to the Jodo Shinshu school (including the sangha of West LA Buddhist Temple), so it is important to understand the history and significance of our Obon Festival. It is not, as some mistakenly believe, to welcome back the spirits of the dead. Instead, it is a time of gratitude, giving, and joy in the Truth of Life. Hence, it is also known as Kangi-e, or the Gathering of Joy.

I searched around the Buddhist blogs for other mentions of Obon and sadly found only a single post by Rev. Danny Fisher with a couple links he plucked out of his daily news scan. Obon is a major holiday for Japanese American Buddhists, and by extension one of the longest held Buddhist festivals in North America. This weekend, you can catch the Revs. Usuki at West LA Buddhist Temple’s Obon festival. You’ll find me there and also in downtown LA at Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple’s 50th annual Obon festival!

One thought on “What is Obon?

  1. Archivist’s Note: Comments have been preserved from the original website for archival purposes; however, comments are now closed.

    AnonymousJuly 24, 2009 at 4:42 AM
    Wow, I thought I wrote a post on this, then just notice it’s been sitting as a “draft” in my blog queue for ages. That was dumb. :-p

    I agree more attention should be given to this as it’s still not well understood outside of Japan, and having been a Bonodori dancer myself once (albeit very poorly), it’s fun thing to talk about. Thanks for the reminder.

    choffJuly 24, 2009 at 11:04 AM
    There’s some pics from Orange County’s Obon Festival here: http://www.dharmabum.typepad.com. Thanks for the post of Rev. Usuki’s comments.

    ArunJuly 24, 2009 at 11:17 AM
    @nihonshukyo: My comments weren’t directed at you or anyone in particular! I just feel a little snubbed that a celebration like Losar, which relatively few American Buddhists celebrate, gets so much more blog attention than Obon, which has a longer history and much larger following among American Buddhists. I likewise have never found my right foot when it comes to Bon Odori…

    @choff: Thanks for the link! The pictures are wonderful.

    AlJuly 24, 2009 at 9:09 PM
    Are more bloggers Tibetan Buddhists or Shin Buddhists? My impression is that Losar gets coverage because there are a lot of Tibetan Buddhists who blog and they celebrate it (whether they are ethnically Tibetan or not).

    Until I ran into Scott’s blog a year and a half ago or so, I’d never even seen a Shin Buddhist blogging that made it explicitly clear. If I wasn’t attending GTU and taking classes at IBS, I don’t think I would have personally met any Shin Buddhists who mentioned their religion.

    I grew up in Seattle with a lot of Japanese American friends. Most of them were third or fourth generation and not Buddhists anymore (nor was anyone in their family outside of a grandparent). I never heard of Obon growing up either.

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