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Selecting Gifts for a Traditional Japanese Obon Festival

The Obon festival, a traditional Japanese event honoring ancestral spirits, is rich in customs and gift-giving. This overview guides you through the cultural significance of Obon and provides thoughtful gift ideas to express respect and celebration during this poignant observance.

An assortment of traditional gifts for a Japanese Obon Festival, arrayed on a wooden table. The gifts include beautifully packed foods like fruits, sweets, and traditional mochi; as well as Japanese paper fans, lanterns, and incense sticks. Each item is detailed and colorful, exuding a festive vibe. The background features a Japanese house with sliding paper doors and minimalistic decor. The warm glow of the setting sun seeps through the windows adding a serene ambiance. The entire scene represents the enthralling spirit of Obon festival without displaying any people or text.

Understanding the Obon Festival

Obon, also known as Bon, is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. Traditionally celebrated in July or August, this festival combines family, spirituality, and community. It’s a time when many Japanese return to their hometowns to visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, a practice known as Ohaka-mairi.

The Art of Gift-Giving during Obon

In Japan, gift-giving, or Ochugen, is an integral part of the Obon festival. It symbolizes respect, appreciation, and the nurturance of relationships. During Obon, it is customary to give gifts not only to family members but also to friends, business associates, and neighbors as a gesture of goodwill and community harmony. When selecting a gift, it is essential to consider the recipient’s taste and the seasonal nature of the festival.

Traditional Obon Gifts

1. Senko – Incense Sticks: Used for honoring ancestors during Obon, high-quality incense sticks are a common and well-appreciated gift symbolizing prayers for the departed.

2. Japanese Sweets and Snacks: Confectionaries such as Yokan (sweet bean jelly), Manju (steamed buns with filling), or traditional rice crackers make for delightful presents that embrace the joyous aspect of the festival.

3. Somen Noodles: Given their association with longevity and health, somen noodles are a meaningful gift reflecting the wish for a long life for the recipient.

Personal and Thoughtful Obon Gift Ideas

4. Handwritten Letters or Cards: A personal letter or a beautifully crafted card with heartfelt sentiments can deeply resonate with the tradition of honoring and remembering family members during Obon.

5. Customary Accessories: Personalized gifts, such as Tenugui hand towels with traditional designs, are both practical and culturally appropriate for the occasion.

Creative Obon Gifts

6. DIY Obon Lanterns: Hand-crafted paper lanterns symbolize the guiding of ancestral spirits. A DIY lantern-making kit could be a heartfelt and engaging gift.

7. Calligraphy Sets: For those interested in traditional arts, a calligraphy set for writing sutras or prayers is a thoughtful gesture that aligns with the spiritual essence of Obon.

Where to Find Obon Gifts

Obon gifts can be found at various places, including department stores, local markets, and specialty shops that cater to traditional Japanese goods. Online marketplaces also offer a broad selection of items suitable for Obon gifting, making it easy for those who cannot travel back to Japan or visit physical stores.


Gift-giving during the Obon festival is a meaningful tradition that strengthens bonds and honors ancestors. Whether you select traditional items like incense sticks and somen noodles or opt for more personal gifts like handwritten cards, the key is to choose with thoughtfulness and respect. Embracing the customs and the spirit of Obon can bring a sense of solace and joy to both the giver and the receiver, mirroring the festival’s essence of remembrance and unity.

Avery Ingram

Avery Ingram


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