Lanterns lanterns lanterns! This means only one thing: we are officially on Obon holidays. For one short week in the middle of August, the country takes a breather and lets its hair down. People make the most of this holiday by going back to their hometowns to visit family or even by going on a trip overseas. It’s a busy time to be on the road, but you don’t have to go far to have some fun. Every city and town around the country hosts many Obon festivals and events. No matter where you are, there’s sure to be something going on close by.
On the weekend, I went along to a small festival in my neighbourhood called the Shimokitazawa Bon Odori. Bon odori is a traditional dance festival you only see in the summer. During Obon, everyone’s ancestors return from ‘the other side’ to visit their descendants. So doing this bon dance is a way to welcome them! Each region has their own style of dance and music. In Tokyo, we have the Tokyo Ondo. Even Shimokitazawa has their own lively version called the Shimokita Ondo. In general the dances involve people stepping back and forth, clapping and raising their arms while moving anti-clockwise around a square stage.
Here’s a video of the Shimokita Ondo (warning: the tune will get stuck in your head!)
Dancing on daddy’s shoulders
Festival favourites: yakisoba and kakigori
Locals love to dress in colourful yukata and dance around the tiered stage. On the top tier is the beat-maker. Drummers take turns playing the taiko, the deep sound echoing through the surrounding streets. Below them are the official dancers who are part of a community club or special bon dance group. They are the dancers the rest of us watch to learn the routine. And they are also the ones who get the crowd fired up! On the ground level at the base of the stage are the participants. Anyone is free to join in the dance – just find your own space and take care not to run into the person in front! I love seeing all the adorable children dancing. It’s great to see these long-standing traditions being passed on. The remaining spectators stand around enjoying the event while eating some festival food or having a drink.
Have you ever been to a bon dance before?