9 Best Japanese Obon Festival Foods

Japanese Food

Obon, also called, Bon, is a festival that is celebrated annually during the summer in Japan and also in the West. Obon festivals take place at Buddhist temples during the months of July and August to honor ancestors who have passed.  

In Japan, Obon is also considered a time for families to reunite, pay homage to familial altars, and visit tombs of ancestors past. From a spiritual perspective, it is also a time to celebrate with dancing, or bon odori, which is the highlight of Obon festivals. Dancing represents joy and appreciation for the sacrifices of ancestors and loved ones who have passed on.

At the Obon celebration, both dancers and festival patrons alike wear light summer kimono, known as yukata. Many types of Japanese foods are available for sale at the festival, and there are games for children as well. Today, especially in the West, there are a number of traditional Japanese foods found at the festival, as well as Hawaiian - Chinese, American, and other Asian-fusion dishes. Next time, try these dishes at an Obon festival near you, or try making them at home!

​In this article, we will look at some of the more traditional Japanese and Japanese - American foods that might be found at Obon festivals. Where available, recipe links are included.

  • 01 of 09


    Takoyaki. MIXA/Getty Images

    Takoyaki is a popular Japanese snack food made of a type of light Japanese pancake batter. It is a round bite-size ball filled with a small piece of cooked octopus (tako) and pan fried in a special takoyaki pan. It is topped with okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) sauce, katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), and aonori (dried green seaweed). Optional toppings include Japanese mayonnaise and beni shoga (red pickled ginger).

  • 02 of 09

    Futomaki or Maki Sushi

    Futomaki. Mixa/Getty Images

    Futomaki, literally translates to "thick" or "fat" roll. It is a very traditional sushi roll that is filled with vegetables such as kanpyo (dried daikon cooked in dashi), cucumber slice or cooked spinach, tamagoyaki (egg roulade), and a sweet dried fish that is dyed a beautiful pink, known in Japanese as sakura denbu. All the ingredients are wrapped in sushi rice and seaweed.

  • 03 of 09

    Chirashi Sushi

    Chirashi Sushi. © Hideki Ueha

    Chirashi sushi is also known as bara sushi or scattered sushi. Sushi rice is served in a bowl and topped with various cooked and fresh vegetables, fish, seafood and kinshi tamago or egg.

  • 04 of 09

    Inari Sushi

    Inari Sushi "Footballs". Tomohiro Iwanaga/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    Inari sushi is sushi rice wrapped in ageh or fried tofu, which is cooked in a sweet dashi. Sometimes the sushi rice used for this is mixed with five types of vegetables and is known as gomoku sushi. These are often a favorite among kids and sometimes referred to as “footballs”. 

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  • 05 of 09

    Teriyaki Chicken

    Teriyaki Chicken. Whitewish/E+/Getty Images

    Teriyaki chicken is a favorite festival food. Sweet and savory teriyaki marinated chicken is grilled and served on a plate with rice and tsukemono (pickled cabbage) or side salad.

  • 06 of 09

    Yaki Soba

    Yaki Soba. Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    Yaki soba is a popular Japanese pan fried noodle with chicken or beef and stir-fried vegetables such as cabbage, celery, and carrots. It is often topped with dried green seaweed or aonori.

  • 07 of 09

    Grilled Corn

    Grilled Corn. TOHRU MINOWA/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    Grilled corn, known as "yaki tomorokoshi" is a popular item and is either served whole in the husk or halved and skewered. Toppings such as teriyaki glaze are most popular, but garnishes such as butter, salt, and furikake (dried rice seasoning), garlic seasoning, and chili powder might also be available.

  • 08 of 09

    Mitarashi Dango

    Mitarashi Kushi Dango
    Mitarashi Dango. Photodisc/Getty Images

    Mitarashi dango are small balls of dense rice cake made of glutinous rice flour and skewered on a bamboo stick. It is served with a sweet soy sauce glaze. It is considered a type of dessert or snack.

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  • 09 of 09

    Shave Ice with Sweet Red Beans & Green Tea Syrup

    Green Tea Shave Ice (No Red Beans "Kintoki").

    A uniquely Japanese summer dessert is uji-kintoki. It is shave ice topped with kintoki (sweet red beans) and garnished with rennyu (sweetened condensed milk) and a sweet green tea syrup (uji).