In Japan, August brings o-Bon, the Festival of the Dead, when — per Buddhist tradition — the souls of ancestors come back to visit the living. During this four- to five-day period starting Aug. 12, special lanterns are set out in front of houses to assist the navigation of the deceased back to their ancestral homes. Offerings of rice and sake are placed in front of the family butsudan (shrine) and the grave sites are ritually cleaned.

At the beginning and end of the Bon period Japan’s thoroughfares are clogged with train, car and air traffic as people journey back to their hometowns to visit Grandma and Grandpa in their country home, and to take part in the Bon traditions. They’ll participate in the local Bon dance, visit graves of the ancestors and take time to hobnob with relatives they haven’t seen since the previous summer. Despite it being a celebration of the dead, the atmosphere is quite convivial as returnees catch up with old friends and relatives while remembering the deceased — and even enjoy a few rounds of sake with them.

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