HOME CULTURE Bon Odori Summer Festival at Tsukiji Honganji

Bon Odori Summer Festival at Tsukiji Honganji

Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors by remembering and appreciating their sacrifices. People return to their ancestral hometowns, visit their families and also visit their ancestors’ graves. This has been evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people wear traditional yukata (or light cotton kimonos), get together, play games, dance in circles around yagura till they get hungry and then have food from stalls. This has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years.

This Buddhist-Confucian custom originates from the story of Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren), a disciple of the Buddha, who used his supernatural powers to look upon his deceased mother.

He discovered that his mother had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and was suffering. Greatly disturbed by this, he went to the Buddha and asked how he could release his mother from this realm. Buddha instructed him to make offerings to the many Buddhist monks on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. The disciple did this and got his mother released. He also began to see the true nature of her past selflessness and the many sacrifices that she had made for him. The disciple, happy because of his mother’s release and grateful for his mother’s kindness, danced with joy. From this dance of joy comes Bon Odori or “Bon Dance”, a time in which ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated.

Bon Odori (commonly known as Natsu Matsuri) is one of the biggest dance festivals in Japan. The celebration style varies from region to region. Every region has their own local music and style of dancing, so each one has something unique to offer. The typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called yagura. The yagura is actually the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music.

tsukiji honganji bon odori

Tsukiji Honganji Temple hosts an annual Bon Odori dance for four days between late July and early August. Each year the event attracts visitors from the neighborhood, across the country, and even outside Japan. Visitors are invited to form a circle around yagura scaffolding and dance to a medley of songs including “Tsukiji Ondo”.

The most typical attraction at a matsuri festival is kingyo sukui (goldfish scooping). Goldfish scooping is a game to scoop up small goldfish swimming in a water tank with a tool made of paper that is easily torn. The interesting part is that you get to keep the goldfish that you successfully scoop out. These game attractions also include super-ball scooping (where you scoop colorful toy bouncy balls), yo-yo scooping (where you pick up a water balloon with a hooked needle) and cork shooting (where you shoot at your favorite prize with a rifle).

Another highlight is the food stalls set up by the vendors of Tsukiji Fish Market. Also known as the “Food Town” of Japan, is one of the largest and the best wholesale fish and food market in the world. The market is divided into two areas: Inner and Outer Markets. While the Inner Market is a licensed wholesale market for only inner business operations (Not open for public), the Outer Market is a mixture of wholesale and retail shops from where you can buy fresh seafood, groceries, and Japanese kitchen tools. It is also lined up with many restaurants where you can get delicious sushi, sashimi, and traditional Japanese cuisines. At Tsukiji Bon Odori, you can enjoy both delicious Tsukiji cuisine and Japan’s traditional Bon celebration together.

Apart from Tsukiji cuisine food stalls, there are also other food stalls without which matsuri is incomplete. Popular stalls are:

1. Wata-ame (cotton candy)
2. Kaki-gori (shaved ice) with the variety of flavor syrups
3. Choco-banana which is decorated with nuts and colorful sprinklers
4. Yakisoba (fried noodles)
5. Okonomiyaki (pancake-style dish)

Tsukiji Honganji Temple is another jewel in Tokyo’s cityscape. It is one of its kind, in terms of its architecture. While the temple’s exterior is inspired from South Asian and Indian traditional temple designs, the interior has Japanese ornamentation and a huge pipe organ from Germany, which makes it a “must-visit” place.


Bon Festival is celebrated from July-August. This year it was celebrated from 1st August till 4th August 2018. The festival runs from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm each night (weekdays) and 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm on Saturday. Hoganji Temple gates are also kept open till 8:00 pm on these days, so that people can also enjoy the quietness and calmness, inspire of the loud celebration happening outside.

Access –
• Tsukijishijō Station on Toei Ōedo Line
• Tsukiji Station on Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line
• Shintomicho Station on Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line
• Walking distance from Shinbashi and Ginza