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    Obon Origin



    Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jacob Smith 

    Naval Air Facility Atsugi

    NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan – For over 500 years, the people of Japan have come together during the summer months in order to celebrate Obon. For those who celebrate, no matter where and when they do so, the reasons remain the same: honoring the dead and reconnecting with the living.

    Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom lasting around three days where people go back their hometowns to visit with family and honor their deceased ancestors, cleaning their graves while their spirits visit the alters in the household.

    “Japanese people hold a high respect for their ancestors. We would not be here if they weren’t here in the first place, so we do all this to honor them.” Said Sumie Maruyama of Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi’s Host Nation Relations Office. “There are not many opportunities for annual leave, so having this time is special across the country.”

    The first Bon festival is known as Shichigatsu Bon (Bon in July) and takes place around the 15th of July for those in eastern Japan in the Kanto region. The second is Hachigatsu Bon (Bon in August), the most commonly celebrated Bon, takes place around August 15th, and the last is Kyū Bon (Old Bon) takes place on the 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calender, thus changes every year, and is celebrated the northern part of the Kantō region, the Chūgoku region, Shikoku, and Okinawa Prefecture.

    During the week the family members offer food and drink to their ancestors, and perform a dance known as the Bon Odori for their entertainment. There are many dances practiced around the entire nation, however different cities and prefectures typically have dances unique to their local area. Ever since its establishment in the mid-20th century NAF Atsugi has hosted an open base Bon Odori event.

    “While the Bon Season is Japanese tradition, the locals enjoy American culture and dances as well, so we try to incorporate both cultures into our Bon Odori here on base to show that we understand and respect Japanese culture, to let them see us embrace their cultures and traditions in order to help build community relations,” said Maruyama. “The interaction is very important, unlike some other events like the Spring Festival where we show off American culture, this is our chance to merge and blend our cultures in a positive way, instead of just a one-way show.”

    The Bon Odori celebration last year welcomed more than 20,000 visitors between the service members and families and off-base visitors. As Maruyama mentioned, this is one, if not the best opportunity for our communities to come together and celebrate as one, a fortunate opportunity for those able to participate.

    “Due to my pregnancy I wasn’t able to participate in last year’s Bon Odori, so I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity to this time,” said Yeoman 2nd Class Daisha Vazquez, from Jacksonville, North Carolina. “It’s exciting to see everyone come out and have fun together, despite how different we may be culturally or as a society, so I’m thankful I’ll have the opportunity to experience this.”

    The origin story of Bon Odori comes from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana, one of Buddha’s closest disciples, who used his powers to look upon his deceased mother who was suffering in the realm of Hungry Ghosts. Disturbed by this, he asked Buddha for advice who told him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks who had just completed their summer retreat. He did this on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, seeing his mother’s spirit released from its torment, as well seeing the selflessness of her life and sacrifices she made while raising him. Seeing this made him dance with joy, leading to the Bon Odori, where the family appreciates the efforts and sacrifices of their ancestors.

    While the Bon season may not be an American custom, the meaning behind it–honoring our deceased and spending time with our living relatives–can be a shared sentiment for all of us, and we can still enjoy the spirit of the season with our host nation in Japan.

    For more information about Naval Air Facility Atsugi, visit or like us on Facebook at, or on Twitter @NAFAtsugiJP



    Date Taken: 07.12.2019
    Date Posted: 12.12.2019 23:25
    Story ID: 355521
    Location: AYASE, KANAGAWA, JP 

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