Rutgers Meets Japan - Willow Grove Cemetery

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JUL 24, 2021
11:00 AM - Tomb site clean-up.
12:00 PM - Memorial service.


Willow Grove Cemetery
70 Morris Street, New Brunswick, NJ

More Info:

Obon Memorial Service at the Willow Grove Cemetery is on the 4th Saturday of July every year in New Brunswick.  Reverends and members from three Buddhist Temples from New York City, Seabrook of NJ and Virginia gather at the oldest tomb site where these Japanese citizens were buried. Among them is Kusakabe Taro, the first Japanese student who graduated from Rutgers. Remembering ancestors during the Obon in mid-summer is a Buddhist ritual that Japanese follow every year.


Obon is a day that’s observed by Japanese Buddhists to honor the spirits of their ancestors. This day is known not only as Obon but as Bon or Bon Obon as well. It originally began as a Buddhist custom but has quickly evolved into a holiday in which families hold reunions and take the opportunity to visit their ancestral homes. In Japan, it’s one of the biggest holidays. This event is open to anyone, it involves cleaning around the Japanese graves and then a Buddist service.

Facts About Obon & The Obon Celebration;

Obon is a rich and storied tradition in Japan, below are some of the facts about this Japanese summer celebration.

The name of this festival loosely translates to “Festival Of The Dead.” In Tokyo, Obon is celebrated around the 15th of July.

On the first day of Obon, small flames are lit outside people’s homes. This is known as Obon Light. People also perform elaborate dances that are known as Obon Odori. According to legend, performing the dance of Obon Odori frees one’s ancestors from suffering. Food offerings known as Ozen are shared with the dead. These foods can include sweets, tea, fruit, and rice.

After rituals and ceremonies performed at home, people often visit the graves of their ancestors.

Obon Customs & Traditions

Besides reuniting with family, visiting ancestral sites, and visiting and cleaning the graves of their ancestors, the Japanese also celebrate in a variety of other ways. They hang lanterns outside their homes to guide their ancestor’s spirits and they perform dances called Bon Odori. They also place food on altars both in their homes and at their temples. At the end of the Obon celebrations, the Japanese will then put floating lanterns onto the seas, lakes, or rivers. This is supposed to guide the spirits back to the world of the dead.