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Cultural Festivals Member Only Special Events

O-Bon, The Spirit Festival

O-Bon, the Spirit Festival, is an important Buddhist festival to honor ancestors and pray for the souls of the departed. The souls of the ancestors are believed to return to the world from beyond. The Garden’s O-Bon event features sutra chanting of the Lotus Sutra by Reverend Zuigaku Kodachi, reading names of the recently departed, and the quiet reverence of toro nagashi (lantern floating).

Join us during the magical hours of dusk in the Garden as we pay tribute to the memory of loved ones by lighting incense and watching candles float in the Upper Pond near the Moon Bridge.

O-Bon festival at Portland Japanese Garden, 2019. Photo by Jonathan Ley

In traditional beliefs, the spirits of the ancestors come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during O-Bon. In Japan, candles, lanterns, and other fires are lit to guide the spirits back to the heavens. Tōrō-nagashi, a ceremony of floating lanterns, is celebrated in many regions on the last night of O-Bon. Floating paper lanterns are lit with candles and released into a river or the sea to guide the ancestral spirits back to the spirit world.

Throughout Japan, Buddhist services are held at temples and homes during O-Bon to pray for one’s ancestors, particularly those who have died within the past year. This serves as a reminder of the importance of family ties, as a gesture of respect for those who have gone before, and as an acknowledgment of the brevity and preciousness of life as a family.

This event is reserved for Portland Japanese Garden members only. For those who are unable to join in-person, we will be livestreaming this event on our Instagram on Saturday, August 19th.