- or o-bon, urabon, bon-e, bon matsuri.Technically a Buddhist festival but never seen as distinct from or incompatible with Shinto, of which it therefore forms a part. As much could be said of many customary 'Buddhist' rites not mentioned in this dictionary, but bon must be included because hatsu-mode and bon are the two main calendar customs with religious significance almost universally observed in Japan. Some Shinto purists argue that bon was originally 'Shinto' and the Buddhist aspects are a later addition, though without evidence. The word 'bon' derives from 'urabon'=Sanskrit ullambana /avalambana meaning 'hanging down'. It refers to rites performed for a dead person to prevent them from being hung upside down—i.e. entering a womb to be reborn in this world. In the Urabon-gyo, the Buddhist sutra invoked to explain the festival in Japan, it is related that the dead mother of Mokuren, one of the Buddha's disciples, was saved from torment in the realm of hungry spirits by Mokuren making an offering to some monks. Bon represents a service for the repose of deceased relatives and is an intensification of memorial rites in general. Ideally, people travel to their 'home village' (furusato) to observe bon. The festival starts with a 'welcoming fire' (mukae-bi) at the entrance of the house to call back the ancestors. Offerings are made to them, usually in the butsudan, graves are visited (haka-mairi) and special bon-odori dances are performed. Shrines are not involved in the celebrations except in the case of some bon-odori where shrine precincts happen to provide the venue for the yagura, a high stage around which people dance to hayashi music. Bon ends two days later with an okuribi or 'sending-away fire' as well as the custom of shoro nagashi, floating lanterns downriver. The festival is an expression of filial piety and pacification of ancestral spirits, as well as a reason to visit one's 'home' village. Bon has been observed annually in Japan since 657. Up to 1867 it was celebrated on the 13th—15th day of the 7th month, and since the Meiji restoration it has been held in different places on either 15th July or 15th August.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.