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O-Bon, the Spirit Festival

Photo by Jonathan Ley

O-Bon is sold out, but mark your calendar for when tickets for our popular Moonviewing Festival go on sale.

This year, Portland Japanese Garden will celebrate O-bon, the Spirit Festival on August 8 and 9. The evening begins festively in the Cultural Village, with live music. Representatives from Oregon Buddhist Temple will guide visitors in traditional Bon-odori dancing. After the dance, Reverend Zuigaku Kodachi will chant the Lotus Sutra, as guests light the tōrō nagashi lanterns in memory of departed family and friends. If you’d like the name of a loved one to be read during the O-Bon festival, please email


O-Bon is a 1,300 year-old Japanese Buddhist festival that honors the spirits of one’s ancestors. Each year from August 13-15, Buddhist services are held at temples and homes throughout Japan to pray for one’s ancestors, particularly those who have died within the past year. This serves as a reminder of the importance of family ties, as a gesture of respect for those who have gone before, and as an acknowledgment of the brevity and preciousness of life as a family. In traditional beliefs, the spirits of the ancestors come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during O-Bon. At the end of the festival, candles, lanterns, and other fires are lit to guide the spirits back to the heavens.


O-Bon is associated with a type of dancing called the Bon-odori. Originally a folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead, the tradition varies from region to region. Each region has a local dance, as well as its own unique music. The movements of these dances, however, are universally simple and participation is usually diverse — with young and old, formally-trained and novice dancers all taking part.


Tōrō-nagashi, a ceremony of floating lanterns, is celebrated in many regions on the last night of O-bon. Floating paper lanterns are lit with candles and released into a river or the sea to guide the ancestral spirits back to the spirit world.