Obon – Dancing in the heat of the summer

The days in the middle of August are special for the Japanese, because they signify the time for returning back to their hometowns. The days preceding Aug 15th, each local community is preparing their biggest summer event: Obon (お盆). The festival is meant as a ritual for remembering the spirits of ancestors. Its actual date differs from town to town and the celebrations last 3 days. Due to the summer heat, people wear lightweight yukata and enjoy food, shaved ice (kakigori) and lemonade (ramune) from the stalls.

The main event during Bon Festival is the dance; Obon dance (盆踊り bon odori). The community raises a two-level wooden tower, on the top level of which someone plays the taiko drum to keep the rhythm. The middle level is occupied by grandmas with yukatas who dance showing the choreography to the people below. The rest of the crowd dances round and round the tower, until they get tired. I warn you, bon odori seems like an easy, slow dance, but in the middle of a hot summer night it leaves you sweating immensely.

Obon tower in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo (2019)
Obon tower in Seta , Tokyo (2019)

When you get tired of dancing, stalls have been set up all around offering anything from yakisoba and takoyaki to ice cream and beers. You can rest a bit and then go back dancing.

Most bon odori dance events were cancelled for this year, but let’s not give up our hopes for next year. You can prepare the dance steps for when you actually participate by checking out this informative video with the moves.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

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