Formerly known as The Festival of the August Moon, the Lantern Festival is held on a full moon in August for families and friends to come together to honour our ancestors. In Japanese it is called “Bon” or “Obon” out of reverence for the dead*.
A day of fun and entertainment is planned for the attendees as this is to be a joyous celebration of those who have passed over before us and usually includes the traditional Japanese dance known as “Bon-Odori”. Planned events include Japanese food, face painting, dancing, arts & crafts, games, folk tales … and more.
During the day, participants design and paint paper Japanese lanterns and kimonos. Just before sunset, in a ceremony called “toro nagashi”, a candle representing the soul of an ancestor is placed in each lantern and lit, then the floating lanterns are released down the Gull River in Minden to guide the departed spirits back to their world.
The lantern festival known as *Obon (or just Bon) is an annual Buddhist custom honouring the spirits of one’s ancestors that has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years. It is believed that each year during the Obon, the ancestral spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives.
In Japan, this custom has evolved into a three day “family reunion holiday” during which people return to their ancestral family places and visit and clean their graves. Many celebrations include a huge carnival with rides, dancing, drummers, fireworks, painting, folk tales, games and a large assortment of foods. Many participants traditionally wear yukata or light cotton kimonos because of the summer heat.
During the close of the Obon festival, the spirits of the ancestors are guided back to their world by the release of floating lanterns which are put into the river to guide them back to paradise.
Bon Odori originates from the story of a disciple of the Buddha who is said to have used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother. He discovered she had fallen into ‘the Realm of Hungry Ghosts’ and was suffering. Greatly disturbed, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this dimension. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to Buddhist on the night of the full. The devotee did this and saw his mother released from the realm and in doing this he also began to realize the many sacrifices that she had made for him while alive and the true nature of her past selflessness. The disciple now, happy because of his mother's release and grateful for his mother's kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori / Bon Dance, a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.
The Toro Nagashi
Traditional Japanese beliefs state that humans come from water, thus the lanterns represent their bodies returning to water and in particular to the sea.
The white paper lanterns, called bon chochin, are used to represent those who have died prior to the day of celebration, no matter how long ago. Each lantern is painted with a specific person in mind ~ something that reminds you of them ~ it could be their name, a picture of something they are connected to or that represents them; it could be to send them a message or write them a poem.
Next a candle is placed inside the lantern to represent the soul of the beloved. The candles are lit and the lanterns are set on a lake or river marking the closing of the festival as it floats away. These floating lanterns are said to escort the ancestors back to their permanent dwelling place under the guidance of fire.