There was a huge crowd of people in Narita as my son and I passed through the airport, and I realized that we’d managed to arrive in the middle of the “Obon return rush,” when millions of Japanese return to the Tokyo area after spending a few days in Hawaii, Guam or wherever. The Obon (“oh, bone”) holiday period is the most important Buddhist holiday of the year, a time when the souls of one’s departed family members are thought to return home for a visit, and many Japanese will return to their jikka (“actual home”), i.e. their parents’ home or wherever their family’s Buddhist altar is kept, to visit the family grave. In addition to being a good excuse for family to get together (similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S.), it’s a time for festivals, and Obon Festivals are among the best in Japan. I’ll never forget my first Obon — I heard a commotion in my neighborhood and went to investigate what it was, and the next thing I know I’ve been pulled into a long line of yukata-clad Japanese doing traditional bon-odori dancing. My head was spinning.
Obon is the most important Buddhist festival.