Obon Festival in Albuquerque’s Japanese Garden

Aug 14, 2022 | 0 comments

Japan’s Obon Festival, a time to honor ancestors and deceased loved ones, is like Day of the Dead in Mexico and Central America. Albuquerque’s Japanese Garden in the BioPark Botanical Garden hosted their second Obon Festival on August 13, 2022.

Obon is an annual Buddhist event that commemorates one’s ancestors. The traditional belief is that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world to visit their relatives.

In this video, docent volunteer Cesar Bustillos describes the activities of Obon festivals in Japan. If the celebrants lived in the mountains, they would light bonfires at the top of the mountain to draw the spirits of the deceased to earth. If the people lived near water, which poses a barrier to the spirits, they would float candles on the body of water to encourage the spirits to come visit.

Obon Festival in Albuquerque's Japanese Garden

At this festival, attendees got special white bags that float on the surface of the koi pond in the garden. They were encouraged to decorate the bags with markers and write names of the deceased they wished to recognize.

The Obon festival traditionally lasts four days, held during July or August. During this time people are off from work and school. They have family gatherings with lots of food and drink. They will have altars in the home similar to those for Day of the Dead, with photos, favorite foods, flowers, and fruit. Families will visit the cemetery and clean headstones and graves of the ancestors.

Obon festival lanterns

Bon Odori dancers float Obon festival lanterns

Communities may gather in the town square for dancing, music, and tea ceremonies. At Albuquerque’s Obon Festival, entertainment included taiko drummers, a traditional dance troupe performing Bon Odori or “Bon dance,” a style of dancing performed during Obon. It is a folk entertainment with a history of nearly 600 years. There were also demonstration tea ceremonies and a performance of a shamisen, a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument.

This was the second Obon Festival at the Albuquerque BioPark. Attendance was limited to 500 participants. The first year, in 2019, 1,000 people attended. The pandemic suspended the event in 2020 and 2021.

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death® recorded this video and wrote this story. Subscribe to her YouTube channel for more great videos.

A Good Goodbye