Culture Celebrating Obon In Okinawa

More information about the unique Okinawan culture
We Okinawans are known to have quite a lot of events that require all the family members to gather at.

We enjoy these functions as they allow us not only to get to know how each of the family members is doing but also to make the bond amongst them stronger.

So today, I would like to introduce one of our unique cultural holiday that is called Obon.

Obon is a Japanese event that welcomes ancestors' spirits visiting the home; however, how it is done in Okinawa is very unique and I must say, this is my most favorite one.

While Obon takes place from August 13th through the 15th in mainland Japan, the dates vary in Okinawa as it is held according to the lunar calendar. This year, Obon in Okinawa falls from August 31 to September 2.

Each day of Obon has a different purpose.

The first day called unkee is to welcome the ancestors' spirits to come back home where the household alter is kept.

When I was a child, I remember all the houses on the streets had candles lit up outside of their doors to lead the spirits home. I'm not sure since when we stopped doing this, but it was quite beautiful at the same time scary to a kid.​

Candles placed outside of a door in Okinawa for Obon

The second day is called nakanuhi. While the head of the household is preparing every meal of the day to offer to the ancestors at the altar, which is also done throughout the entire period too, family members visit other relatives' homes with a gift that is called ochugen.

Ochugen gifts are sold everywhere on the island around this time, ranging from 500 yen to over 2500 yen. I personally usually get boxes of a few bottles of olive oils for ochugen, but this year I've picked boxes with Japanese noodles in it.​

Ochugen gifts Ochugen gifts

Ukui, is the last day and is the main day to wrap up Obon. This is the day all the family members get together at the household altar to send the spirits back.

The specific time that we gather is up to the family members. If they want the spirits to stay in this world longer, then the time would be later in the evening. As a matter of fact, that's my family's case and till the time, I enjoy beers serving some to the altar for my father as well.
It's only because he and I used to drink together at the house when he was still alive and I would like to think that he is still enjoying it.

When it's time to do the event, we all sit in front of the altar to pray. Though, it's more like telling the spirits how the year went for the family members.

The householder is supposed to do the prayers out loud when the others are listening behind.​

obon-snack-offerings-02.jpg Obon snack offerings

When the prayer is done, we put some of the feasts and a bunch of yellow-colored papers, considered money for heaven, into a big bowl. It is like a souvenir for the spirits to take up there so if there's anything that you'd like for them, you can just throw that in too. My first daughter, who liked her grandpa so much has put a letter she wrote for him into the bowl as well.​

Money to burn to send to the ancestors for use in the afterlife Advertisements for feast meals for Obon

Wondering what we do with all these items in the bowl?

We burn them.

We burn them and after putting up the fire with a little of Japanese sake, the householder takes the bowl outside the house. While coming back inside, he or she is not supposed to look back otherwise it is considered that the spirits wouldn't leave this world.

Although this is a part of Buddhist culture, I would like to say that we Okinawans have our own unique culture that is different from any other part of it and almost everything is based on how much we respect our ancestors.​

Family photo with altar in back
The views expressed on this page by users and staff are their own, not those of Okinawa.Org.
  • Like
Reactions: SkyWalk and WA6
About Author
Snow is the wife of @David, co-founder of Okinawa.Org, and a local national. She dedicates her time contributing posts about the Japanese language in the Language Corner forum as well as posts about Okinawan culture and other amazing things to do in Okinawa in the Okinawa blog.


There are no comments to display.

Sign In or Sign Up

Forgot your password?
Don't have an account? Create an Account

Article Information

Last Update

More in Culture

More from Snow

Share This Article