Obon in Tokyo

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Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to welcome the ancestors’ spirits back home.

Obon in July for Tokyo

Generally Obon is observed from August 13 to 16, but in some eastern parts of Japan, including Tokyo, it is observed from July 13 to 16.

Obon is one of the most important events in Japan, and many companies close down operations during Obon in mid-August. Also in Tokyo, many companies and shops close during this period in mid-August (not in July), but Tokyo locals celebrate Obon in July. Here is why.

This is good for those who are coming from other prefectures to work in Tokyo, and for those who have families both in Tokyo and in the countryside. They can celebrate Obon in Tokyo in July, and come back to home countries to celebrate Obon again in August.

On the first day’s evening, we light a “welcoming fire” (Mukae-bi) at our front doors to greet our ancestors. When the fire gets small, we stride over it three times praying for our safety.

Many people go to the temples, clean up the families’ graves and pray.

And on the last day’s evening, we light a “send-off fire” (Okuri-bi) to see them off, just the same way as the “welcoming fire”. Some people float lanterns down rivers, and others consider the fireworks as a “send-off fire”.

Sumida River Fireworks Festival on the last Saturday of July, the oldest Fireworks Festival in Japan, is also considered as a “send-off fire” for many Tokyo locals. You may wonder why some Japanese are crying when they see fireworks. For those, fireworks sometimes mean more than just a revelry. On July 29 2023, Sumida River Fireworks Festival will be held for the first time in four years, which has been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many people will send off their dear ones they have lost during the pandemic.

On the Sumida River, Toro (lanterns) Nagashi Festival held in early August is also popular as the Okuri-bi, “send-off fire”. My parents say that they used to float lanterns down the Sumida river freely on July 16 long time ago, but now it is forbidden, you have to pay to do that only at that festival.

In Kyoto, where Obon is observed in August 13-16, Gozan-no Okuribi (or Daimonji-yaki) on August 16 is famous as the “send-off fire”.

And one of the most popular summer Obon events in Japan is Bon Odori, Bon dance performed at temples, shrines, schools and parks all around Japan. Many people wear Yukata (casual Kimono) and enjoy the matsuri (festival).

There are many Bon Odori songs, but “Tokyo Ondo” is the most popular Bon Odori song in Tokyo, performed also at the closing ceremony of Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

東京音頭 / 小唄勝太郎  (TOKYO ONDO / KOUTA Katsutaro)


Lyrics by SAIJO Yaso
Composed by NAKAYAMA Shinpei
Released in 1933
Singer: KOUTA Katsutaro

Haa, odori odoru-nara, choito Tokyo Ondo, yoiyoi
Hana-no miyako-no, hana-no miyako-no mannaka-de, sate
Yattona sore yoi yoi yoi
Yattona sore yoi yoi yoi

Haa, hana-wa Ueno-yo, choito yanagi-wa Ginza, yoiyoi
Tsuki-wa Sumida-no, tsuki-wa Sumida-no Yakatabune, sate
Yattona sore yoi yoi yoi
Yattona sore yoi yoi yoi

Haa, osananajimi-no, choito Kannon-sama-wa, yoiyoi
Yane-no tsuki-sae, yane-no tsuki-sae natsukashi-ya, sate
Yattona sore yoi yoi yoi
Yattona sore yoi yoi yoi

  • Odori odoru-nara Tokyo Ondo = If you wanna dance, dance the Tokyo Ondo
  • Hana-no miyako-no mannaka-de = In the middle of the flourishing capital city
  • Hana-wa Ueno-yo = When it comes to cherry blossoms, Ueno by all means
  • Yanagi-wa Ginza = When it comes to willows, Ginza
  • Tsuki-wa Sumida-no Yakatabune = When it comes to the moon, houseboats on the Sumida River
  • Osananajimi-no Kannon-sama-wa = My dear childhood friend, Asakusa Kannon (Deity of Senso-ji) (Speaking of “Kannon-sama” in Tokyo, it means the Kannon of Asakusa Senso-ji)
  • Yane-no tsuki-sae natsukashi-ya = I miss even the moon on the roof

東京音頭 振り付き (How to dance TOKYO ONDO)