Obon is an experience and a festival usually held August 13th or so of every year. Japanese return to their home towns to gather with family and remember their ancestors. For some it is a time to remember those who have passed recently. For others it is a time to reconnect with their place of birth and to commune once more with old friends. While in Japan, I was able to participate in 3 Obon festivals. I wore yukata, danced with my students and learned group dances. And everyone danced. From preschoolers to the elderly of the community, everyone danced. I enjoyed this festival because of the traditional importance it holds. The older generations can teach the younger generations.
In 2004 I attended my last Obon in Japan. At this event white lanterns with the named of loved ones who had passed away since the last Obon where strung up side by side. These lanterns were very ornate. All were white and trimmed with gold. All were made of paper and held small candles in them. After the dances were done and an announcer stated it as time for the lanterns, everyone gathered around. Women began to chant prayers from their buddhist faith and the lanterns were all cut down and layed in a pile. Someone lit the lanterns and quickly they all began to burn. I stood near mesmorized by the sight. My japanese friends and families were releasing their ancestors to the other side and I was there to share this time with them.
In the US I don't think we have anything quite close to the intensity of Obon yet we too remember our ancestors and loved ones gone from us. I encourage you if ever the opportunity arises, go to an Obon event in a local Japanese community center or establishment. It is quite an awakening to see the beautiful Japanese people pay tribute to those they hold dear and to experience a deep tradition that occurs yearly.