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Obon

Old Mar 30th, 2006, 12:49 PM
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Obon

As some of you may have already read, I'm trying to put together a tentative itinerary for Japan. Our only restrictions are that the trip must be in August (not including the last week) and my BF only has 9 days off from work.

I read that Obon will be from August 13-15 with warnings that many businesses will close during this period and transportation will be crowded and hard to obtain. I thought I also read somewhere that Obon occurs in Tokyo in July rather than August, but I can't seem to find this information again. Can anyone confirm this information for me?

Also, any thoughts on being in Japan during this time? On the one hand, I wouldn't mind seeing the Obon odori since I grew up participating in Obon odori every year in LA. But, I also would like the opportunity to see the other sites and I'm worried that we won't be able to because of closures and lack of available transportation.

Thanks for any feedback.
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Old Mar 30th, 2006, 02:32 PM
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The Obon period is about August 5 - 20. Some areas, like Kanazawa, have the "religeous" obon time in July. There are really 2 kinds of obon these days.

The first meaning is the the time when people return to their hometown and pay their respects to their deceased relatives by holding a special ceremony with a priest.

The graveyards are adorned with special lanterns to lead the souls of the dead back to their resting place (at least that's what I've been told by the priest of the temple next door). This may take place in July or August, depending on the tradition of the locality. The days are "flexible" for the ceremony...meaning people do it when they have time.

As the temple obon takes place in July in Kanazawa, people do not generally have time off to travel or to have ceremonies...so for a week or so in mid-July, the temples are very busy conducting these ceremonies on the weekend, as well as early in the morning...like 4 AM sometimes at the one next door to our house. The ceremony includes incense, bells and chanting, and is quite nice I think.

The other kind of obon is the vacation time obon. This has been rather standardized throughout Japan to fall in August. It is one of the peak periods of overseas travel for Japanese people. School vacation for summer doesn't begin until after July 25, and the August obon period is when most company employees get time off, it's the only time they can travel. And they do.

For travel within Japan, obon isn't generally a problem. The will be festivals that happen...the month of August is ripe with them, big and small. August is also fireworks seasons, and there are displays of fireworks. While businesses close, that means offices, some factories...it does not include restaurants, tourist facilities, hotels, shopping. In fact, hotels run "obon specials" that are cheaper than their usual rates (but to get those rates you have to ask and the rates generally aren't released until around June).

Transportation...people move en masse out of the cities at the beginning of the period, and back in at the end of the period. Time it so you are going the opposite way and you'll be all set. We drove to Nagoya a couple of years ago to take advantage of the obon special at the Hilton there...we left Kanazawa on the first Sunday of the obon period in August and got there in record time with no traffic...but leaving Nagoya the highway was backed up with terrible traffic moving sloooowwwwly for, we clocked it, 47 km.

You will not be bothered by things being closed, you can work with the transportation by being aware of the pattern, and August can be great in terms of festivals and fireworks. BUT...it's also HOT. I'm not kidding, it's hot. We've been to Bangkok twice in August to escape the heat...Bangkok is cooler. We once tried to do some sightseeing in Kyoto after returning from a trip out of Japan in August, and managed to see one thing per day before giving in to air con shopping and hotel pool.

So, if you visit Japan in August, be prepared for heat. Nothing you've experienced in LA is similar, believe me. It's hot and humid, like a wall when you step into it. It takes your breath away.

But, you can work with the heat...get up early (no problem coming from the states) and get in temples and markets (places without air con) in the early morning, like finish before 11. Do museums, shopping, relaxing in the afternoon, and after 6 or so, head back outside for wandering around the streets, festivals, fireworks.

Summary...Japan in August is hot. Obon doesn't mean tourist facilities or shopping or transportation is closed. You can work around the crowds by moving in the opposite direction, and take advantage of good hotel rates. Though hot, August is a month of fun with festivals and fireworks.
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Old Mar 31st, 2006, 12:38 PM
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KimJapan,

As always, your feedback is invaluable! I'm a little more worried now about the weather after reading your reply. I'd read and heard that Japan is hot in August, but I wasn't as worried before because I went to Thailand in July/August a couple of years ago and had read about how hot Thailand is at that time of year (not the best time to visit, weather-wise, just as I've read about Japan). It was hot and muggy, but wasn't unbearabable, so I figured August might not be the most comfortable time to visit Japan, but it'd be no worse than Thailand was. Now I'm not so sure.

Do you think that we'd end up not being able to do as much as I'd like because of the heat? Well, this seems like an obvious question, but I guess I'm asking whether we'd be SERIOUSLY impeded in our sightseeing due to the heat.

Thanks!
Judy
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Old Mar 31st, 2006, 01:17 PM
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KimJapan,

If you had a choice, would you recommend a trip at the end of July/beginning of August or try to come as late in August as possible? I'm supposed to be back at work on August 28, so the latest we could go would probably be something like 8/11-24.

Thanks,
Judy
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Old Mar 31st, 2006, 01:44 PM
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Yes, it's hot. Really hot. And humid. Will it bother you? I don't know...depends on you and depends on seasonal variation. We've been to BKK twice in min-August and both times found it a relief.

July is "rainy season" - early July tends to be rainier/cloudier. As the rain stops, the heat index goes up. By late July until early September, it's typically the same weatherwise...humid, hot, humid, humid, hot.

If I really think about it, I guess I'd recommend the earliest time possible for you, and actuallly hope for an "extended rainy season" as it is cooler without the sun shining.

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Old May 11th, 2006, 05:46 AM
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We just found out we'll be going back to Japan in August - my wife scored a couple of tickets to see her alltime favorite band (B'z) in Tokyo and will be fulfilling a lifelong dream. That its happening during Obon makes it that much greater!

Is there a site that lists festival schedules? I haven't found anything through my searching. My Japanese is appalling so English sites would be preferable, although my wife is a Japanese citizen so she'll be able to read anything you could recommend.

We'll be in the Yokohama/Tokyo area, possibly wagering a trip to the Northern part of the country soon after our arrival, as I've heard it will be difficult to get out near the end of our stay, especially knowing that we'll have a 10-month-old baby with us.

I'm curious to see what the heat will be like. Coming from Atlanta, I'm no stranger to the deadly combo of heat and humidity, and Tokyo is close to our latitude here. Then again, their winters are much colder than what we have...

Thanks for any help!
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