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Posts tagged bon odori

Summer festivals in Japan

tenso jinja matsuri bonodori tokyo olympics sign

Japanese party signs

While wandering through my old neighborhood in Tokyo a little over a year ago I noticed these signs for the 2013 version of the Bon Odori I went to in 2009 and the matsuri I went to that same year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be in Tokyo long enough to experience either of them again. Instead, I ended up at this place.

The poster on the right is for the 2020 Summer Paralympics which will also take place in Tokyo. That announcement came down shortly after I took this photo.

Dance of the dead

bon odori Nishikubo Hachiman Jinja Summer Festival (西久保八幡神社例大祭[夏祭り2013])

Nishikubo Hachiman Jinja Summer Festival (西久保八幡神社例大祭[夏祭り2013])

Continuing our October/Halloween related posts, today’s photo (beyond the title) really has nothing to do with October or Halloween as the Japanese do their dancing (盆踊り) to honor their dead ancestors in the middle of summer.

Oshare (おしゃれ)

bon odori oshare gentleman hat

Smartly-dressed Japanese gentleman at bon odori

I loved the hat on the dancing man in the middle of today’s photo. I took this picture at the Nishikubo Hachiman Jinja Summer Festival (西久保八幡神社例大祭[夏祭り2013]) in Tokyo this past August.

Japanese lanterns

tenso jinja nishi waseda lanterns

Tenso Jinja (天祖神社) lanterns all lined up and ready for some Bon Odori action

Last month I returned to my old neighborhood near Waseda University for the first time in more than three years. Seeing Tenso Jinja again was very 懐かしい for me. Unfortunately, I left Tokyo before they had the annual event these lanterns were set up for.

Bon Odori – Day 2

bon odori written in kanji and hiragana japanese

First a little Japanese lesson for you. Bon Odori can be written in three ways in Japanese–ぼんおどり (all hiragana), 盆おどり (kanji and hiragana like the lanterns on my street pictured above), or 盆踊り (mostly kanji).

Bon (or o-bon) means the annual summer festival which celebrates or brings to mind the deceased. O-bon happens in both July and August, usually around the 15th of each month. In some parts of Japan it is only celebrated once, rather than in both months.

Odori simply means “dance.” Odoru is a verb meaning “to dance.” Put Bon and Odori together to get something that loosely means “dance of the dead.” Viewing a Bon Odori doesn’t conjure up visions of a dance of the dead however.

bon odori tokyo japan august 2009

After the magic that was the first night’s dance I made sure my family came with on the second night, even though my daughter had already fallen asleep again. I brought her in a nearly comatose state so perhaps it was a dance of the dead after all. 😉

I think they really enjoyed it too, especially watching the little girls, all dressed up, trying to learn the dances from their mothers and grandmothers. The taiko drumming that accompanies the dance is fun to experience as well.

black and white bon odori picture japanese lanterns

After each song an announcer thanks everyone for their participation and then introduces the following number. They probably did a dozen different songs, or more, each night. Each song has a different dance with which it is associated. Some of the participants were amazing in their ability to remember the steps and movements in each of the folk dances. I don’t think they ever do the bon dances outside of the night or two each year.

shinjuku-ku nishi-waseda jinja bon festival matsuri

My wife and daughter were invited to join the dance, but they politely declined.

The songs remained in my dreams both nights, going through my head over and over again. Maybe we’ll still be around next year (in July anyway) to catch another Bon Odori or two.

Check out the video of this taiko drummer I took on the first night. He was quite talented.

盆踊り Bon Odori – Day of the Dead Dance – 1st Night

It has been 21 years since I saw my last Bon Odori. The dancers came right down the street I was living on at the time in Kofu, Yamanashi Ken. Fast forward to the present and the morning after we arrived in Japan. I saw an announcement that the local shrine in Nishi-Waseda was having a Bon Odori on that very night and the following evening as well. I was so excited!

bon odori torii

My family didn’t have the energy to attend, and my daughter feel asleep before the dance began, so I headed to the shrine on my own. It is only a two minute walk. The music began just as I arrived. There were only a dozen or so dancers. The dancers’ husbands were all sitting together, in matching yukata, fanning themselves.

bon odori dancer husbands

As the music reached the ears of our neighbors, they all seemed to creep out of their homes and make it to the shrine. By the time I left, an hour later, over a hundred people were in attendance, and the number of dancers had increased by several fold.

bon dance nishiwaseda tokyo japan august 15 2009

I was, of course, the only non-Japanese person there. The whole evening was enchanting. I felt as though I had traveled through time and space. The tall, modern, Tokyo buildings couldn’t be seen in the darkness. The light from the paper lanterns was dim, and the shrine in the background provided the perfect setting. My lack of a yukata and foreign looks seemed to ruin the authenticity so I stayed back in the shadows.

dance of the dead folk japan bon obon odori taiko drumming

I’ll wrap up day one of the Bon Odori with this video (which I actually took on the following night). There will be more from the August 16, 2009 天祖神社盆おどり in tomorrow’s entry.

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