Let’s dance!

Today is Obon, an important Japanese holiday. Traditionally it is a day for honouring the spirits of one’s ancestors. But since the Japanese never pass up an opportunity to have a party, it is also an excellent reason to organise a festival and get together with friends and family.

Apart from delicious festival food and lots of people wearing yukata, the Obon festival is characterized by Obon dances, which are called Bon Odori (η›†θΈŠγ‚Š). The dancers gather around a central stage and perform circular dances while moving around the stage. Compared to some Western dances, the Obon dances seem very slow and subdued. But once you give it a try, it is a wonderful feeling to share in the group atmosphere and to do the dances together.

obon nagoya castle
Obon dancing at Nagoya castle. The central stage houses the musicians and from time to time, different people are invited up on stage to dance there.
obon dancing nagoya castle
The colourful crowd in yukata is so beautiful!

Anyone can join in: there are many elderly ladies, but also lots of young people. Even clumsy gaijin like me are welcome to join. In the video below you can see the cutest little boy doing his best to dance along with the adults. There is also an equally cute, but slightly older girl in yukata.

In this next video you get a better look at the crowd and you can really see the circular motion of the dancers. Sometimes you will see ladies in matching yukata. I think they belong to an Obon dance group where they practice all year long and then go to various Obon festivals in their matching yukata.

There are big Obon events like the one at Nagoya Castle where these videos were made but Obon is also celebrated on a smaller scale in local neighbourhoods. When we were wandering around Muroran, a small city in Hokkaido, on an evening in August, we saw this local Obon gathering on a neighbourhood square:

Obon in Muroran, Hokkaido
This was a small, local community celebration in Muroran, Hokkaido. There weren’t any booths with festival food. Instead there were some tables where people placed their homemade food, sharing between everyone.

8 thoughts on “Let’s dance!

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    1. Haha not really. It is said that Nagoya is quite traditional and more like the countryside compared to Tokyo or Osaka. When I first came to Nagoya, I was overwhelmed by the size of it, since we don’t have such big cities in Belgium. But after having travelled to Tokyo, I suddenly understood why Nagoya is considered a small and quiet city πŸ™‚ Toyota City seemed like a village after that, although Toyota has more people in it than the second biggest city in Belgium. It’s all about perspective I guess ^_^

  1. One of my few memories of my grandfather was dancing with him at an Obon festival in Fresno, CA. I was 5 and he was teaching me the steps.

    1. そうですねー. It’s hard for me to believe that these pictures were already taken two years ago. On the one hand it feels like yesterday, one the other hand it’s like a dream that happened in a different universe or something.

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