This is our third Okinawan summer, so our third season of Obon as well.
Obon, or Bon Festival, is a celebration throughout Japan, but in Okinawa its celebrated twice. Once during the nationally recognised dates, and the second time follows the lunar calendar. This year, the second dates fall during this week (Aug 23-26).
Obon is a Buddhist holiday, the traditions tend to revolve around celebrating the arrival of the ancestors spirits, the cleaning of the graves, gathering of the families around the family altars (where gifts, food, etc… are offered), and Obon dances. In Okinawa, the Obon dances are called Eisa, or Eisa dancing.
Some of the dances are throughout the neighborhoods, in the main squares, sports stadiums, massive parades in the city of Naha, and every other place possible during the season. Most nights for the last two weeks, we have heard the drums playing as the drummers walk through the neighborhoods.
Spiritually, what does Obon mean? Like many traditions around the world, it has been made into a cultural symbol rather then an actual spiritual experience for the vast majority of nationals.
However, many people do believe that the ancestors spirits are called in at the beginning of the festival, similar to the Mexican holiday of the Day of the dead. These spirits are led to the homes by the outside lanterns and called in by the Eisa drums. The last night of Obon the spirits are sent back out, with the food offerings and some paper money that is meant to be spent in the afterlife.