Mexico’s Day of the Dead Reminds Me of Japan’s Bon Festival, Halloween

New York, N.Y. In August, almost all Japanese people have a Bon Festival. The souls of those who died earlier will be called back TO ONE’S OWN HOME. Families get together during the Obon holidays after everyone has returning to the ancestral village. There, the dead will talk to the family and even enjoy special meals with their families.

AA family prepares for Obon in Japan.

Visit Aguascalientes 

The other day, I went to a city called Aguascalientes in Mexico, located in a highland of about 1900 meters in the middle west of Mexico. I travelled there in preparation of our upcoming pre-conference for the Third World Congress of My Onnetsu Therapy (thermotherapy) in October.

BCelebrating Obon dressed as ghosts in Japan.

Although Aguascalientes is the second smallest state in Mexico, it is the fastest growing as an industrial and commercial zone. The suburbs are dotted with vast farms and hot springs. Truly a beautiful city with many buildings. During my stay, I learned something very interesting about Mexico, especially in this region. 

Día de Muertos Similar to Obon in Japan

A very similar event to the Bon Festival in Japan is traditionally performed in Mexico. It becomes a holiday called “Day of the Dead” and coincidentally, the same as in Japan, it is celebrated in August! It is a national holiday, and everyone returns to their homeland in Japan. To celebrate the dead family members who are believed to come back and worship with the ancestors together.

FA couple prepares for Day of the Dead — Día de Muertos — in Mexico.

The Mexican view of life and death comes from the Aztec civilization. “Death” is considered a new life process. Therefore, Mexicans see “Day of the Dead” as a day of celebrating not as a day of sorrow, but a loved one who wakes up and celebrates together with families who are alive. 

It is a bright festival in which people decorate the city with altars, skeletons, flowers and food, with sounds and music to honor the dead. Through this “Day of the Dead,” you can get a glimpse of Mexican culture and history. In 2008, it was registered as an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

GPaper mache skulls on sale for Día de Muertos in Mexico.

In Mexico, there was a ritual that celebrated the death of family members and ancestors. The festival that developed on the Day of the Dead was originally celebrated on the 9th month of the Aztec calendar (around the beginning of August in the present day). It was even celebrated for one entire month! The festival was dedicated to the goddess known as the “Dead Lady” corresponding to Katrina. Today, it is celebrated from October 31 to November 2.

Beginning October 31st, All Hello Rose Eve, children will create a children’s altar and invite the spirits of the dead children to visit. I think this may be the beginning of America’s Halloween tradition!

zzeThe United States also has its own tradition of Halloween every October 31.

November 1st is the day of all saints and is visited by adult spirits. November 2nd is All Souls Day, where the family goes to the cemetery and decorates the graves of their parents and relatives. The three-day festival is full of flowers’ marigolds,. Fruits and nuts, incense and other traditional food and decorations are displayed.

Aguascalientes is particularly gorgeous because  from, the famous lady of the dead, La Catrina.comes from the famous Posada Every year, there is a huge Katrina doll standing in San Marcos Park, and various events are held throughout the day and night. In the end, they all marching, dancing to the nearby mountains.

IThe Mexican view of life and death comes from the Aztec civilization.
“Death” is considered a new life process. Here, a young girl contemplates both.

The Skeleton is a Symbol of Both Life and Death

In Mexico, since ancient times, there was a custom of decorating ancestor skeletons with skeletons as a symbol of death and life.

You may recall the animated movie Coco released by Disney two years ago. This film, where an ancestor who lives in the world of death appears in the form of a skeleton, was a huge hit in Mexico.

DDeadly friends gathered for the Obon Festival in Japan.

Many Beautiful Skeleton Dolls in the City (Calavera)

A lot of Catrina dolls are sold in the town of Aguascalientes. I also received a beautiful Catrina doll as a souvenir. The lady is wearing a big hat, but she is a skeleton. In Mexico, we value people who have died. They don’t think the skeleton is scary at all. The skulls are sometimes even displayed in the house as they are!

HA lot of Catrina dolls are sold in the town of Aguascalientes.

Would you like to go to Aguascalientes with us because there will be a Holistic Healing of Onnetsu Therapy in October? If you are interested, please call us. 212/799-9711 (Yukawa).


Originally published as Vol. 84 in Weekly Biz, August 23, 2019; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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