Nishimonai Bon Dancing is a traditional event that has been handed down for a long time in Nishimonai in Ugo-machi, Akita Prefecture. One theory states that it started about 700 years ago, when Mitake Shrine was founded in this village and a dance to pray for rich harvest was dedicated. In 1981, Nishimonai Bon Dancing was designated as a national Important Intangible Cultural Property. It was the first designation for a Bon dancing.
One of the attractions of Nishimonai Bon Dancing is its unique and beautiful fashion. To the music of Japanese flute and drums played atop the yagura (scaffold), both minority women putting on black hood called Hikosa-zukin and adult women putting on elegant straw hat called Torioi-gasa perform elegant dances. It was considered that spirits gathered under the hood and hats. Some adult men dancers wear female dress.
There are two types of dances; “Ondo” with cheerful tempos and “Ganke” with quiet rhythms. Very complicated movements of feet and hands create elegant effects.
The ancestral “Hanui” costumes are also very beautiful. “Hanui” is passed down from mother to daughter and the patterns and designs are differ from family to family. We can see a family history in “Hanui,” which is made of fragments of old clothes collected from generation to generation since the times when dresses were important properties for women.
Niino Bon Dancing is a folk performing art handed down in Niino in Anan-cho, Nagano Prefecture. It is held in the middle of August as a part of events in the Bon season. Niino Bon dancing dates back to 1553, when the ceremony to celebrate the foundation of Zuikoin Temple was held, people from Shimoda in Izu province (present-day Shizuoka Prefecture) performed dances, which were later combined to the local dances and developed to the present form.
The Bon dancing is danced throughout the night during the 3 days of Bon Season. It is an old-fashioned one which is danced only with the Ondo (a chorus by natural voice) and without the Hayashi (musical accompaniments). When the Ondo group reads the first half of the lyrics, the participants continue the latter half while dancing. Regardless of age and gender, everyone joins the circle dances or the line dances to send off the spirits of the dead. Even a tourist can join the circle by following other people’s actions. It’s more like something you enjoy your self by dancing as you like than a performing art that you enjoy seeing.
After the lanterns are lit at dawn on the last day of the festival, everyone bring lanterns, in which spirits are enshrined, and send them off the town, singing a song of fall. When they go home, it is said that they must not look back because the spirits may come back to town.
Bon Dance Festival is held from August 13 to 18 in Higashiyama Hot Springs in the suburbs of Aizu Wakamatsu City in Fukushima Prefecture. Higashiyama is a fine hot spring town with a lot of Japanese style hot spring inns lining along the both sides of the Yukawa River. The history of this hot spring town dates back to about 1,000 years ago, when hot springs were discovered by Priest Gyoki. It thrived as the entertainment center of the area since then and is still favored by many tourists today as the inner sanctum of Aizu.
During the festival period, a large yagura tower is constructed over the Yukawa River. A lot of chochin lanterns are hung all around and illuminate the town. A lot of citizens together with tourists and geisha ladies in yukata join the circle and dance around the yagura tower to the dance songs such as “Aizu Bandaisan” until late at night. The town is filled with up-tempo dance songs and drum beats every night. The quiet hot spring town takes on a cheerful atmosphere during the festival period.
Hanatori Odori is a kind of sword dance handed down in Kochi Prefecture since the Middle Ages. It is a gallant dance performed to pray for good health. It is said that the dance originates in an episode in the Warring States period (1493-1573).
Once there was an impregnable castle at the top of a mountain. When a troop of warriors made an attack on the castle, the troop leader called villagers together and performed a dance with them by wielding his sword. To see their dancing, the soldiers in the castle relaxed their guard and allowed the enemy to invade into the castle.
In Tokano in Sakawa Town in Kochi Prefecture, the Hanatori Odori dances are dedicated to Shirokura Shrine and Mitsugi Shrine in early November. When the real-size straw horse is set in the shrine precinct in the morning, two Tengu with long sticks in their hands appear. Then about twelve dancers wearing flower hats and blue costumes march into the precinct through the Torii gate, walking to the rhythm of Japanese drums, who are followed by the cheerful parade of the children’s Mikoshi and Ohayashi music band.
The dancers start dancing in a circle, dynamically wielding their swords, while two Tengu walk close to the spectators and play a joke on them. Dance is continued for about 1 hour and ended with the rice throwing ritual.
Yosakoi Matsuri is a relatively new festival. It was created by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Kochi Prefecture to cast off economic recession after the Second World War and was started in 1954. It was created with influence from Awa-odori (Awa Dance Festival) in Tokushima Prefecture.
In the festival, Naruko, a percussion instrument used to scare off birds in crop fields, was introduced during the dance performance and became an essential part of the Yosakoi Festival to this day.
In the beginning, the dance followed the Japanese traditional dancing style, but Eisaku Takemae, who was a noted music composer and supervised the festival music, encouraged a variety of arrangements in music and many different musical styles have started to appear. Nowadays, each team devises their own original piece with influences coming from many different genres including samba, rock, hip hop, Japanese Enka, flamenco and Hula dance, which, along with more traditional performances, greatly entertain the audiences.
The word, Yosakoi, is derived from an archaic word of Yosari Koi (Come in the evening).
Bamba Dance is a folk dance performed every August during the Matsuri-Nobeoka (Nobeoka Festival) in Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Matsuri-Nobeoka is the largest summer festival in northern Miyazaki. In the Bamba-Sou-Odori (Whole Bamba Dance), more than 5,000 townspeople dance in a huge circle. The festivities also include a display of some 10,000 fireworks. This festival lasts for two exciting days.
The Bamba Dance is accompanied by narrative songs known as Kudokiuta, which feature long lyrics. The Bamba Dance seems to be a derivation of Bon festival dances held in each region of Nobeoka.
The lyrics of the songs for the Bamba Dance include many phrases from Kabuki and Joruri, which were very popular in the late Edo period. Therefore, the Bamba Dance is considered to have been popular in the late Edo period.
Indeed, the Bamba Dance has been enjoyed by people for a very long time.
Kiryu Yagi-bushi Festival held from the 1st Friday to Sunday in August every year in Kiryu City, Gunma Prefecture is the biggest summer event for the people in the city. The festival was first held in 1964 as the integration of various festivals that had been held in the city all through the year including the festival of the city’s commercial and industrial association in spring, Kiryu Gion Festival and Star Festival in summer and the annual festivals at local shrines in fall. It was originally named “Kiryu Festival,” which was assumed the present name in 1988.
The festival is famous as the most gorgeous festival in the Kanto region. It features a lot of events such as the children’s mikoshi parade, the dance contest “Dance Yagi-bushi” and the Jumbo Parade. During the festival, the National Yagi-bushi Song Contest is held in town, in which a lot of Yagi-bushi singers from all over the country participate and show off their vocal skills.
Around the Bon dance yagura (temporary stage) set up throughout the city, people, old and young alike, get together to perform their original-styled dances to the rhythm of Yagi-bushi folk music. The enthusiasm and passion for the festival bring energy and life to the city.
Dekansho Festival is a Bon dance festival held in the middle of August in Sasayama City, Hyogo Pref. With the hope of preserving and passing down various local Dekansho-bushi songs in the Tanba Sasayama area, the festival was first held in 1952 on the riverbed of the Sasayama River. Dekansho-bushi song, to which Dekansho Dance is danced, is said to have originated in “Mitsu-bushi,” which was sung around the end of the Edo period by the people from Sasayama, thinking of their hometown. In the later periods, it was sung with various lyrics and spread all over the country. At the present time, the festival is held in the field of the Sannomaru (the third castle) ruin, where people dance in multiple circles around a large yagura tower at the center. The highlight of the festival is the vigorous “Yagura So-Odori,” in which even the people coming from outside the prefecture join the circle dancing to the ohayashi music and the refrain of “Yoi-Yoi-De-Kansho!” If you want to have one more summertime memory, why don’t you join it?