What is Obon?
Obon is a Japanese summer festival celebration from the Buddhist tradition. Obon in Japan is not an actual event it is a period of a few days between 13th-15th August when people believe their ancestors return to spend time with them on earth. It is celebrated in many ways in different areas of Japan and is a joyous and happy time. It is very family-centred. Generally people leave the cities, pack up the trains and return home to gather with family and pay respects to their ancestors. There are many rituals associated with Obon, from making visits to graves to eating special foods, from visiting the houses of relatives to pay respects, to having bon odori dance festivals with taiko drumming. One of the most iconic images of Obon is the toro nagashi lantern floating that takes place at the end of Obon to symbolise the return of the spirits to their world.
About Foyle O-Bon Festival
Our Foyle O-Bon festival is strongly linked to Nagai Shi in Yamagata and their traditions inform how we interpret the festival. Obon in Nagai Shi is celebrated on August 13th with traditional food, family visits and visits to the grave. The next days sees the start of the local Shinto festival, the Kurojishi Matsuri, which lasts for two day. The whole neighbourhood comes together. Obon is a time of great excitement, of celebration, of family gathering together, of fireworks, lanterns, taiko and dance, of flutes and Shishi and of shared spaces.
Why celebrate Obon here in Northern Ireland?
When we were first had the idea to celebrate O-Bon here in the North of Ireland, it came from the desire to be able to share Japanese taiko, culture and tradition and to create a meaningful family festival for all. We celebrate in June simply in order to enable all our school students and participants to perform and take part!
We have an ever-growing group of Japanese and Japanese shared-heritage families here in Northern Ireland that has a need to see its culture celebrated as part of our cultural calendar. We are also home to an ever-growing family of taiko drummers and Japanese traditional dancers whose love for celebrating Obon reaches out and touches people and encourages them to come along and join in.
Also, in our fractured society, drumming and summer festivals can be divisive and seen to belong to one group or the other. We wanted to share a new page of Northern Irish culture and develop a new way of coming together in a new, shared community space.
We created an outreach programme of workshops and classes to bring the art forms of taiko drumming, manga art and Japanese dance to many schools and community groups. Many of these workshops bring children and adults from both sides of our historical divide together to simply make friends and have fun while learning something new. These workshops in the community result in performances or exhibits that form the centre of our Foyle O-Bon Festival. We also welcome international performers and artists.
We hope to create a festival where the true meaning of Obon – the respect for the past and our ancestors, the coming together in the present with good food, the taiko, dancing and love – is central.
We believe it gives everyone hope for the future.