Buddhist observance honoring the spirits of the ancestors; traditionally observed from July 13 to 15 (August in some areas). Also known as Bon or Urabon. Typically at O-bon, a "spirit alter" is set up in front of the butsudan (Buddhist family alter) to welcome the ancestors' souls; then a priest is requested to come and read a sutra. Among the traditional preparations for the ancestors returning are the cleaning of the grave sites, preparing a path for them to the house, and the provision of straw horses or oxen for the ancestors' transportation. The welcoming fire, built on the 13th, and the send-off fire, built on the 16th, are intended to illuminate the path. O-bon and New Year are the two high points of the Japanese festival calendar, and thematically they bear a close resemblance. On both occasions, custom strongly urges all members of a family, no matter how scattered, to gather together to honor their ancestors. Certain observances associated with O-Bon -- the Tanabata festival, the Bon Odori, the Nebuta festival, and lantern floating -- have become tourist attractions. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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