The Rising Sun Meets Salt Lake City

Utah has culture? Yes.

Some of you non-Utahns may be surprised to hear it, but Utah does have some great summer festivals. My favorite is the Obon Festival. Once a year I make the trek back to my home town of Salt Lake City, Utah for my favorite day of the year. There are Obon festivals that happen just about anywhere that there’s a strong Japanese community. During this time of year the community comes together and puts on their kimonos and happi coats toting their folding fans and blinking lights to dance in the warm summer night beneath the illuminated lanterns.

The family dancing at Obon 2015

The family dancing at Obon 2015

How Did Obon Come About?

Once upon a time a monk mourned for his mother. He went to buddha upon seeing his deceased mother’s spirit in the realm of the Hungry Ghosts. Worried, the monk asked Buddha how to save his mother and Buddha instructed him to make an offering on the 15th day of the 7th month. The monk then danced with joy after successfully releasing his mother’s spirit. His appreciation for his mother and all of her sacrifices during her life were expressed in his dancing. This dance became the Bon Odori (Obon).

The Customs in Japan

  • Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors
  • It’s a family reunion holiday
  • Many in Japan return to their hometowns in celebration for this day although it is not an official holiday
  • The Japanese clean their homes and have food offering in front of a Buddhist altar placed in their homes
  • The ancestors and their sacrifices are remembered and appreciated on this day
  • The ancestor’s spirits come back home to be reunited with their family during Obon

The Utah (Japanese American) Celebration

Although I haven’t been to Japan during this time of year (typically July/August) to see their Obon Odori, I have grown up in Salt Lake City performing the Obon (folk) dances every year for the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple. Typically the festival is structured as follows:

  1. Food – served around dinner time many are welcomed to come and eat at the buddhist temple. They have different kinds of Japanese food for sale
  2. Taiko – the Ogden Buddhist Taiko Group performs for about 20-30 minutes
  3. Obon Odori – the dancing begins
Some of the family together before the dancing begins

Some of the family just before the dancing begins

Want Your Own Gear?

I’d recommend the following items (or anything similar)

What’s So Great About Obon?

My absolute favorite thing about Obon has always been my family and friends. During the last two dances of the festival the dancers grab anyone and everyone from the audience to join in on the fun. The adrenaline is running high and with so many loved ones around to catch up with, how can you not have fun? After the festivities my family typically carries on the party to a nearby restaurant for late night eats and this is the time to wind down and do some more catching up before the night comes to an end.

To watch one of the dances check out my YouTube channel. It’s not the best quality, but you’ll get the idea!

If you’re interested in attending a local Obon Festival check out


Happy Wandering,


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