The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens is once again celebrating obon, the traditional Japanese Buddhist festival to honor the spirits of the ancestors. Traditionally tied to the summer lunar calendar that marks a three-day stretch when it is believed the spirits of deceased family members and ancestors return to the land of the living, the summer months in South Florida have a tendency to be brutal – not only in terms of heat, but also with daily afternoon thunderstorms that tend to dampen outdoor soirees. So last year, the Morikami broke the 35-year-old mold and shifted its longstanding Bon Festival to October, giving it a new name, Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon, and there was much rejoicing.
The Lantern Festival holds true to all the tenants of obon: a time of family togetherness and remembrance, while infusing a little Morikami fun into the mix of taking the traditional three-day celebration and distilling it into one fun-filled afternoon.
In Japan during obon, families gather for festive dances called the bon odori (left), aimed to entertain the visiting the spirits. Accompanied by flutists and drummers, performances grow to a fever pitch, creating a carnival-like atmosphere, with games, entertainment and food all playing a prominent role. The festival culminates with Toro Nagashi, floating paper lanterns (some elaborately decorated, others solemn and simple) that are illuminated and floated down rivers, a symbolic gesture for the spirits returning to the world of the dead. This is usually followed by a fireworks display.
The Morikami’s normal tranquil gardens will transform into an afternoon of celebration, starting with a bustling ennichi street fair, complete with authentic Japanese fare, a Kirin Beer Garden, and sake station for the of-age guests, as well as plenty of shopping for those hard-to-find and intriguing gifts. On the Matsuri Stage, the ever-entertaining Taiko drum show by Fushu Daiko will thunder with four performances—2:45 (members only), 4, 5:30 and 7 p.m., while traditional Japanese folk dancing—bon odori—by Chitose Kai will take place at 2:30 (members only), 3:45, 4:45 and 6:15 p.m., not only offering a glimpse at a tradition 500 years in the making but also beckoning visitors to join in the fun. Younger festivalgoers will be entertained by a variety of activities, including mask making, a Kokeshi ring toss, and festival field games like cornhole and sack racing.
Just after sunset, the lantern floating ceremony—Toro Nagashi—will take place on the Morikami Lake, engulfing the pond in a sea of light [7 p.m.]. Individual lanterns and shoryobune ships filled with tanzaku slips (messages of remembrance from guests) are lit, acting as a guide for the ancestors’ return from the land of the living. To cap the evening of remembrance, a dazzling fireworks display will light up the sky at 8 p.m.
- The Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon will take place October 18 from 3-8 p.m.
- Tickets are SOLD OUT.
- For more information, visit morikami.org.