During the hot summer days, one of the most spectacular Obon festivals in Japan is celebrated in central Tokyo. For the Mitama Matsuri, the Yasukuni Shrine is decorated with more than 30,000 traditional Japanese lanterns, running all the way from the great torii gate to the main gate of the sanctuary.
Obon Mitama Festival
Obon is the holiday during which the spirits of the family, friends, and ancestors return to the earth for three days to visit their loved ones and celebrate the holiday with them. In Japan, Obon is celebrated on different dates depending on the region, and in Kanto, where Tokyo is located, it is celebrated in mid-July.
The Yasukuni Shrine has been the backdrop for the famous Mitama Matsuri (Festival of Souls) since 1947. Thousands of people from both Japan and foreign countries visit this festival, amounting to approximately 300,000 visitors annually. The Mitama Matsuri takes place from July 12 to July 16, and for those days the Yasukuni Shrine offers a wide range of activities, aimed at all ages.
Mitama Festival Celebrations
Normally in the morning, the community of neighbors of the Kudanshita area performs traditional dances. They do this to welcome the spirits. Then in the afternoon, the lanterns will glow and the omikoshi (portable shrine) is carried by the men of the community. Dancing through the wide street of the shrine enclosure, it makes for a spectacular sight. There are also musical activities or martial arts presentations at the Noh Theater of the sanctuary. At nightfall, Mitama Matsuri enters its peak of beauty. Giving the visitor the opportunity to meet with their loved ones who are in the other world, it feels magical.
In the place where the statue of Omura Masujiro is located, all visitors gather. They are usually dressed in yukata (casual summer kimono) for the ‘Bon Dori’, the Obon dance. Bon Dori is performed to receive the spirit of the deceased and feel their presence again. The dance tends to be simple but very fun and cheerful.
In the internal precincts of the sanctuary, paintings and drawings made by various artists and even by children are displayed. They represent the importance of art within the spiritual world. The main door sports the traditional decoration of the Tanabata Festival. The lanterns are not only on the outskirts but small lanterns also form a beautiful path that permeates the entire spiritual enclosure with light and serenity.
This is a great festival and one of the most important festivals of the year. Here, people of all ages gather to thank for peace and celebrate with love the visit of those beings who are no longer with us on earth.
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