Summer Means… Ghosts?


Summer means sun, vacations, the beach… and ghosts?

In Japan, ghosts or yuurei 幽霊 appear more often than usual during the summer, including family ancestors. The appearance of ancestors coincides with the Obon お盆 festival, a Buddhist festival where Japanese families return to ancestral family homes and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves. The festivals held across Japan are accompanied by Bon odori 盆踊り, which are large dances meant to welcome back the spirits of the ancestors.

Hasedera in Kamakura

Hasedera in Kamakura – photo by kei

While in the US we associate ghosts and zombies mingling amongst the living with October and Halloween, Japanese ghosts tend to show up in July and August. In the run-up to the Obon season, there are a variety of obake yashiki お化け屋敷 or haunted houses to visit. This year there was even a haunted train, complete with zombies. And of course, the hospital-themed haunted house at Fuji-Q Highland is exceptionally popular during the Obon season. 

During Obon, lanterns are traditionally hung outside of homes to help light the way for the ancestors to return. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are set adrift in rivers, lakes, and the ocean to help guide the ancestors away again.


The holiday this year started off on Friday, with the newly-created Mountain Day or Yama no Hi 山の日 (which just started in 2016). The Obon festival lasts for three days in the middle of August (although the dates vary somewhat in different parts of Japan), and this year’s festivities are just winding down this weekend – accompanied by the usual traffic jam as people return to the large cities from the countryside.

What kind of holidays do you celebrate in the summer? What kind of holidays do you celebrate with your ancestors, ghosts, or other spooky things? Let me know in the comments!

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