Dressed for Obon, young Kokoro Okutama rides a swing at a temporary evacuation center in the northern Japanese town of Kesennuma. (Photo: Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)
In America, we honor the spirits of our dead either cinematically (The Sixth Sense) or with candy-coated holidays (Halloween). In Japan, departed ancestors are welcomed back in an annual Buddhist ceremony called Obon. Something of an ethereal visitation day, Obon is when the dear departed return to Earth to be feted by the family they've left behind.
The still-living relatives hang doorway lanterns to attract the dead to a ceremony of dancing, food offerings and gravesite excursions.
When Obon day is done, lanterns are floated in lakes and streams to guide the free-floaters back to the afterlife.
This year’s festival follows a busy season of departures and transitions. In the northern Japanese town of Kesennuma, where young Kokoro Okutama rides her swing, more than 1,400 people were killed or swept away by March’s earthquake and tsunami.