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Obon Festival in Albuquerque’s Japanese Garden
Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death, Funeral Expert Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death, Funeral Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Albuquerque, NM
Sunday, August 14, 2022


Japan’s Obon Festival, a time to honor ancestors and deceased loved ones, is like Day of the Dead in Mexico and Central America. Albuquerque’s Japanese Garden in the BioPark Botanical Garden hosted their second Obon Festival on August 13, 2022.

Obon is an annual Buddhist event that commemorates one’s ancestors. The traditional belief is that each year during obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world to visit their relatives.

In this video, docent volunteer Cesar Bustillos describes the activities of Obon festivals in Japan. If the celebrants lived in the mountains, they would light bonfires at the top of the mountain to draw the spirits of the deceased to earth. If the people lived near water, which poses a barrier to the spirits, they would float candles on the body of water to encourage the spirits to come visit.

At this festival, attendees got special white bags that float on the surface of the koi pond in the garden. They were encouraged to decorate the bags with markers and write names of the deceased they wished to recognize.

The Obon festival traditionally lasts four days, held during July or August. During this time people are off from work and school. They have family gatherings with lots of food and drink. They will have altars in the home similar to those for Day of the Dead, with photos, favorite foods, flowers, and fruit. Families will visit the cemetery and clean headstones and graves of the ancestors.

Obon festival lanterns

Bon Odori dancers float Obon festival lanterns

Communities may gather in the town square for dancing, music, and tea ceremonies. At Albuquerque’s Obon Festival, entertainment included taiko drummers, a traditional dance troupe performing Bon Odori or “Bon dance,” a style of dancing performed during Obon. It is a folk entertainment with a history of nearly 600 years. There were also demonstration tea ceremonies and a performance of a shamisen, a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument.

This was the second Obon Festival at the Albuquerque BioPark. Attendance was limited to 500 participants. The first year, in 2019, 1,000 people attended. The pandemic suspended the event in 2020 and 2021.

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death® recorded this video and wrote this story. Subscribe to her YouTube channel for more great videos.

Gail Rubin, CT, is author and host of the award-winning book and television series, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, Hail and Farewell: Cremation Ceremonies, Templates and Tips, and KICKING THE BUCKET LIST: 100 Downsizing and Organizing Things to Do Before You Die.

Rubin is a Certified Thanatologist (that's a death educator) and a popular speaker who uses humor and films to get the end-of-life and funeral planning conversation started. She "knocked 'em dead" with her TEDx talk, A Good Goodbye. She provides continuing education credit classes for attorneys, doctors, nurses, social workers, hospice workers, financial planners, funeral directors and other professionals. She's a Certified Funeral Celebrant and funeral planning consultant who has been interviewed in national and local print, broadcast and online media.

Known as The Doyenne of Death®, she is the event coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival and author of a guide to holding such festivals. Her podcast is also called The Doyenne of Death®. She produces videos about the funeral business and related topics. Her YouTube Channel features more than 600 videos!

Rubin is a member of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, Toastmasters International and the National Speakers Association. Her speaking profile is available at eSpeakers.com.

Gail Rubin has been interviewed about funeral planning issues in national and local broadcast, print and online media. Outlets include The Huffington Post, Money Magazine, Kiplinger, CBS Radio News, WGN-TV,  and local affiliates for NPR, PBS, FOX, ABC-TV, CBS-TV and NBC-TV. Albuquerque Business First named her as one of their 2019 Women of Influence.

Sign up for a free planning form and occasional informative newsletter at her website, AGoodGoodbye.com.

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Dateline: Albuquerque, NM United States
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