This weekend we got a chance to participate in the Japanese festival of Bon. Traditionally the festival is a Buddist custom to honor one’s ancestors. Over the years this has transformed into a holiday meant for family re-unions. Apparently the festival is celebrated in different regions on different dates. In our region it was celebrated on last Saturday.
The festivities were planned in the Tayuzuka park and were scheduled for the whole day. The park was abuzz with people starting from around 2:00 p.m. which was the official start time for the festivities. There was a main podium put up and curiously in the center of the park a small construction called as “Yagura” was put up. On the sidelines, there were some small shops put up alongwith Japanese “mela” games of Gold fish and Water Yoyo. Music and dance programs started around 2:00 p.m. and various teams started performing with people just thronging into the park to enjoy the dance and music with their families. The park also had a lot of children generally running around and playing around and having fun.
Around 6:00 p.m. the crowd were invited for the Bon Odori dance. A flashback to history for the significance of this dance is due at this stage. Apparently, a monk who was a disciple of Buddha used his powers to see the state of his deceased mother. He saw that she had fallen into the Realm of Hungry ghosts and was suffering. The monk was disturbed and asked assistance of Buddha to help his mother. Buddha instructed the monk to make offerings to many Buddhist monks. The monk dutifully did this and his mother was released from the clutches of Hungry Ghosts. In his joy at the release of his mother, the disciple broke into a dance which was dance of joy this is referred to as the Bon Odori or the Bon Dance.
Coming back to our park, so we were all requested to assemble around the Yagura which is simply a wooden construction covered with cloth. People line up around them and perform the Bon Odori. The dance does resemble the garba dance, but is a much simpler cousin of it. The dance steps include two steps forward, two steps backward and one step forward again with the clapping of hands. Children and adults alike dance around the Yagura with a few cheerleaders trying to get more and more people into the act. A few of us Indians joined in the dance as well and showed a few of our garba moves here and there. 🙂 Yagura dance is accompanied by some ritual singing accompanied to the beat of the drums and a flute. The music is a bit haunting at times as it is there to welcome the spirits and the singing is more or less guttural with a deep throated singer singing some ritual verses.
Meanwhile the stalls were doing brisk business selling snacks, ice golas, cold drinks and beer. As the night started to emerge, the families started thronging the gardens and enjoy the evening. Around 7:30 p.m. the Bon Odori dance came to an end and the families started identifying prime real estate on the park to enjoy the main show of the night – the fireworks. The Fireworks display went on for around 15-20 minutes and lit up the night sky and was greeted with a lot of applause from the kids and the adults alike. After this there was one more round of Bon Odori and the grand finale fireworks show to close the night.
The families then slowly started to return to their homes having a great day of enjoyment with their families. This almost reminded me of the Uttarayan day in Gujarat when we used to have so much fun on the terraces for the whole day flying kites. Anyhow, so that’s another Japanese experience for us.