In Japan, mid-August is time for Bon Odori dances festivals during 3-day celebration of Obon “Festival of the Dead”. The tradition traces its origin all the way back to the 8th century Heian period.
Durin Obon, streets, parks and gardens turn into stages for Bon Odori dancers. Men, women and children wearing colorful yukatas or stylish kimonos dance to thunderous music, complete with Taiko drums. Magnificent fireworks light up the night sky.
Bon Odori dances and the music that accompanies them have a highly local flavor, and different regions of Japan each have their own colorful, distinct style.
One of the best known styles is “Awa Odori” from Tokushima region in southern Japan.
Awa Odori is one of the most stunning sights and sounds of Bon Odori traditions.
Large groups of women (sometimes in hundreds) dance and sing chants in unison. Dancing on the tips of their wooden geta sandals, steps are sharp and crisp, performed in small movements restricted by tight, colorful kimonos. Hand movements are highly stylized with graceful skyward gestures.
Obon, Festival of the Dead, is a Japanese custom for remembering and honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors. During Obon, spirits are invited back home for a family reunion of sorts.
On the first day of Obon, families light a bonfire (Mukae-bi) outside the house to let the departed ancestors know they are welcome to come in.
At the end of three days of festivities, they light another bonfire called Okuri-bi. This is a sign of farewell. They also float lanterns in nearby rivers to signal the spirits it is time to return.