Bon Odori, meaning simply Bon dance is a style of dancing performed during Obon. Originally a Nenbutsu folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead, the style of celebration varies in many aspects from region to region. Each region has a local dance, as well as different music. The music can be songs specifically pertinent to the spiritual message of Obon, or local min'yo folk songs. Consequently, the Bon dance will look and sound different from region to region. Hokkaido is known for a folk-song known as "Soran Bushi." The song "Tokyo Ondo" takes its namesake from the capital of Japan. "Gujo Odori" in Gujo, Gifu prefecture is famous for all night dancing. "Goshu Ondo" is a folk song from Shiga prefecture. Residents of the Kansai area will recognize the famous "Kawachi ondo." Tokushima in Shikoku is very famous for its "Awa Odori," or "fool's dance," and in the far south, one can hear the "Ohara Bushi" of Kagoshima.
The way in which the dance is performed is also different in each region, though the typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura. The yagura is usually also the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music. Some dances proceed clockwise, and some dances proceed counter-clockwise around the yagura. Some dances reverse during the dance, though most do not. At times, people face the yagura and move towards and away from it. Still some dances, such as the Kagoshima Ohara dance, and the Tokushima Awa Odori, simply proceed in a straight line through the streets of the town.
The dance of a region can depict the area's history and specialization. For example, the movements of the dance of the Tanko Bushi (the "coal mining song") of old Miike Mine in Kyushu show the movements of miners, i.e. digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, etc. All dancers perform the same dance sequence in unison.
There are other ways in which a regional Bon dance can vary. Some dances involve the use of different kinds of fans, others involve the use of small towels called tenugui which may have colorful designs. Some require the use of small wooden clappers, or "kachi-kachi" during the dance. The "Hanagasa Odori" of Yamagata is performed with a straw hat that has been decorated with flowers.
The music that is played during the Bon dance is not limited to Obon music and min'yo; some modern enka hits and kids' tunes written to the beat of the "ondo" are also used to dance to during Obon season.
The Bon dance tradition is said to have started in the later years of the Muromachi period as a public entertainment. In the course of time, the original religious meaning has faded, and the dance has become associated with summer.
The Bon dance performed in the Okinawa Islands is known as eisa. Similarly, the Yaeyama Islands have Angama.
Celebrations Outside Japan
In Argentina, the Bon Festival is celebrated by Japanese communities during the summer of the southern hemisphere. The biggest festival is held in Colonia Urquiza, in La Plata Partido. It takes place on the sports ground of the La Plata Japanese School. The festival also includes taiko shows and typical dances
Bon Odori Festival is celebrated every year in many Japanese communities all over Brazil, as Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. SÃ£o Paulo is the main city of the Japanese community in Brazil, and also features the major festival in Brazil, with street odori dancing and matsuri dance. It also features Taiko and Shamisen contests. And, of course, this festival is also a unique experience of a variety of Japanese food & drinks, art and dance.
Further information: Hungry ghosts in Chinese religion
The Korean version of the Bon celebration is known as Baekjung. Participants present offerings at Buddhist shrines and temples, and masked dances are performed. It is as much an agricultural festival as a religious one.
In Malaysia, Bon Odori Festivals are also celebrated every year in Esplanade (Padang Kota Lama) Penang, Matsushita Corp Stadium in Shah Alam, Selangor, and also Universiti Malaysia Sabah at Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. This celebration, which is a major attraction for the state of Selangor, is the brain child of the Japanese Expatriate & Immigrant's Society in Malaysia. In comparison to the celebrations in Japan, the festival is celebrated on a much smaller scale in Penang, Selangor and Sabah, and is less associated with Buddhism and more with Japanese culture. Held mainly to expose locals to a part of Japanese culture, the festival provides the experience of a variety of Japanese food and drinks, art and dance, with the vast number of Japanese companies in Malaysia taking part to promote their products.
United States and Canada
The "Bon season" is an important part of the present-day culture and life of Hawaii. Bon Odori festivals are also celebrated in North America, particularly by Japanese-Americans or Japanese-Canadians affiliated with Buddhist temples and organizations. Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) temples in the U.S. typically celebrate Bon Odori with both religious Obon observances and traditional Bon Odori dancing around a yagura. Many temples also concurrently hold a cultural and food bazaar providing a variety of cuisine and art, also to display features of Japanese culture and Japanese-American history. Performances of taiko by both amateur and professional groups have recently become a popular feature of Bon Odori festivals. Bon Odori festivals are usually scheduled anytime between July and September. Bon Odori melodies are also similar to those in Japan; for example, the dance Tanko Bushi from Kyushu is also performed in the U.S. In California, due to the diffusion of Japanese immigration, Bon Odori dances also differ from Northern to Southern California, and some are influenced by American culture, such as "Baseball Ondo".
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