This Japanese version of Asia’s hungry ghosts festivals (Obon) is the nation’s most important religious holiday.
The Obon Festival has transformed into a family reunion of sorts. It’s common for urban dwellers to visit their hometowns and adorn their ancestors' graves with flowers, and many homes have altars dedicated to the spirits with food offerings and chochin lanterns. One of the most common and beautiful rituals is releasing toro nagashi (floating lanterns) into the ocean, rivers and lakes, carrying the spirit of ones ancestors back to the afterlife. Fire also plays a central role and is used in purification ceremonies (most temples have a candle-lighting ceremony).
The Awa Odori is perhaps the best part of the Obon Festival and takes place every August 13th through the 15th at Tokushima on Shikoku Island. Though the island’s population is only around 250,000, nearly 1.3 million visitors attend every year. The rowdy, street-dancing riot of color and culture originated in 1586, when a feudal lord hosted a sake-drenched party of epic proportions to inaugurate the Tokushima Castle.
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