Bon Odori

Bon Odori festivals are a celebration of Japanese culture, tradition and music. This iconic celebration is not just one festival held in one location. Several are held throughout Japan in the summer, and the festivals have grown far beyond their country of origin. Many communities with Japanese roots celebrate the festival in the United States, Canada and other countries. The original Bon festivals started as a way for Buddhist communities to honor their ancestors; from there, they’ve grown into a tradition where people visit their ancestral homelands, honor the past, and enjoy a summer festival. Most festivals take place over a three-day span and include food and a dance called the Bon Odori dance. While it’s not an official national holiday in Japan, most people leave work to join in the fun.

Obon Festival

Obon Festival
Obon Festival  Image: ToastyKen (flickr)

In the summer, Bon festivals, sometimes spelled Obon, take place in communities throughout Japan and have for the last 500 years. The date of the festival varies from region to region, which dates back to the time when the country switched from lunar calendar to the Gregorian calendar used today. In eastern Japan, the Bon Odori festival is celebrated around the middle of July. Tokyo and its neighbors host the Shichigatsu Bon festivals for three days around July 15. A month later, Hachigatsu Bon is celebrated in other cities.

The Kanto Region, the Ryukyu Islands, and others locations hold Kyu Bon according to the lunar calendar, the 15th day of the seventh month. For these, the date varies from year to year but do fall in the summer. In places outside of Japan, Obon festivals take place throughout the summer. Some occur as the same time as the ones in Japan, while others happen when the schedule allows.

Bon Odori Dance

Bon Odori Dance
Bon Odori Dance  Image: localjapantimes (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0

Whether you’re celebrating the Bon Odori Festival in Japan or Argentina, you can bet on seeing dances. The Bon Odori dance is an example of tradition with a story to tell. The folk dances each have a regional twist and songs that recognize the story behind Obon. While the dances are music are different in Hokkaido or Tokyo, there are some elements that are the same—people will circle up and dance around a wooden structure made just for the festival. It’s call the yagura, and it’s usually where the band is located. The dances circle around the yagura and tell the story of the region, its people and its heritage. Some of the dancers wear colorful garb and hold fans or wooden clappers. Whatever the dance, you can expect a festive and moving celebration.  

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