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A lantern float at a Bon Odori event.
A lantern float at a Bon Odori event.

Bon Odori: Five Breathtaking Events to Check Out!

Thuy FangThuy Fang
Published Time
Posted on July 10, 2024
Modified Time
Updated last July 12, 2024

Bon Odori Matsuri (Obon Festival) is a vibrant and inclusive event that unites people. Its mix of traditional dance, music, food, and games is a beautiful way to experience Japanese culture and honor the past. This is one of Japan’s most meaningful events. Visitors can experience the country’s unique cultural tradition during Obon. Let’s explore this worthwhile summer celebration in various regions of Japan!

What is Bon Odori?

Bon odori (Bon dance) is a traditional Japanese dance performed during the Obon Festival. This special event honors the spirits of ancestors and is celebrated all over Japan, usually in July or August. The dance comes from Buddhist customs and has been part of Japanese culture for over 500 years. It’s a lively and joyful way to remember and celebrate their ancestors.

Bon Odori began with a Buddhist story about a monk named Mogallana, who saw his mother suffering after she died. The Buddha told him to make offerings to monks, which helped his mother. Then, Mogallana and his friends were so happy that they danced joyfully. The religious part is less important today, but the dance is still a fun way to celebrate life and community.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some Bon Odori festivals happening this year in the Tokyo area!

Nakano Bon Odori Festival (August 3-4)

This is one of Tokyo’s most significant summer events, which takes place right outside Nakano Station. Unlike most Obon Festivals that start in the evening, this one kicks off early in the morning with music and dance performances. It mixes traditional dances with modern J-pop tunes and international hits like Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” and Abba’s “Dancing Queen”. Instead of the usual outdoor matsuri, it feels more like an outdoor disco with a main stage boasting a variety of live acts and DJs playing all day.

The Nakano Bon Odori event at night.
Nakano also plays contemporary music during the dances! Image via Timeout Tokyo

The festival also features an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest bon odori dance. Whether you know the dance moves, yukata-clad presenters guide everyone on stage. Additionally, you’ll find many booths selling delicious food and drinks at the events. 

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Shimo-Kitazawa Bon Dance Festival (early August)

This fun and vibrant event occurs in the trendy neighborhood of Shimo-Kitazawa, Tokyo. It has been a beloved event since it started in 1966. The matsuri centers around a yagura (festival tower), where dancers in beautiful kimonos dance in a circle, creating a lively and joyful atmosphere. Like the Nakano Bon Odori Festival, this one also starts at 10 am. 

The Shimo-Kitazawa Bon Odori event.
The Shimo-Kitazawa Bon Odori is one of the trendiest neighborhoods. Image via Tokyo Cheapo

Here, you can enjoy music and dance performances all day. There are summer games, live music, and workshops for kids to make plushies and keychains. Furthermore, food is also a big part of the festival, with tasty street food like fried chicken, hamburgers, yakisoba (Japanese stir-fried noodles), and sweets from over two dozen stalls around Shimo-Kitazawa Station.

One of the highlights is the Awa Odori parade. It’s a traditional dance from Tokushima Prefecture where groups of dancers and musicians perform routines together. Each night during the matsuri, 12 to 13 teams march through the streets wearing traditional Obon costumes. They dance to music played on shamisen lutes, taiko drums, shinobue flutes, and kane bells.

Tsukiji Honganji Bon Dance (August 2-5)

Held at the beautiful Tsukiji Honganji Temple, known for its stunning main hall, this festival is an exciting treat for all ages. The temple itself is an Important Cultural Property of Japan, adding to the unique atmosphere of the celebration.

A Bon Odori event in front of Tsukiji Honganji.
This Obon event takes place in front of the most unique temple in Tokyo! Image via Tokyo Cheapo

Fantastic taiko drum performances fill the air at this event with energetic beats. The event also features traditional “Tsukiji Ondo” music and popular bon odori tunes. If you get hungry, numerous food stalls and the nearby Tsukiji Outer Market have diverse, tasty Japanese street food, such as sushi and tempura.

Kabukicho Bon Dance (mid-August) 

Kabukicho Bon Dance is organized by Ageha Bijo, a famous bon odori dance producer in Japan. It offers a blend of traditional Bon Odori dance songs and modern pop music, making it a joyful experience for everyone. Also, Kabukicho, known for its vibrant nightlife, becomes a lively dance arena during the event.

The Bon Odori dance in Kabukicho.
You can dance right in front of the Godzilla statue here! Image via Mashup Kabukicho

Ageha will teach traditional bon odori steps and a modern version with pop songs, making it easy and enjoyable for newcomers to join in the dancing. Tokyo Otome Taiko, an energetic idol group, will perform taiko drums, adding to the excitement. In addition to the dancing and performances, the matsuri has various food stalls and shops offering yummy snacks and drinks.

Minato Mirai Bon Dance Festival (mid-August)

The Minato Mirai Bon Dance Festival in Yokohama is a cherished summer event that attracts many visitors to its scenic location by the sea. At the festival, taiko drummers play rhythmic beats while dancers in yukata swirl around a central stage. Everyone is welcome to join the dance and enjoy this treasured Japanese tradition. You can also find food stalls selling favorites like yakitori (skewered chicken) and kakigori (shaved ice).

The Minato Mirai Bon Dance at night.
This event also has beer gardens! Image via Japan Travel

the festival includes modern touches and fun activities for all ages. Kids can participate in exciting festival games like yoyo fishing, goldfish scooping, and ring tossing, while adults can enjoy beer gardens and delights from local vendors. With cultural performances and a friendly atmosphere, this event is a standout celebration in Yokohama’s summer.

Why is Bon Odori important?

Bon Odori is a significant tradition in Japan that brings communities together to celebrate and honor ancestors. This lively dance has been part of Japanese culture for centuries, evolving into a joyful expression of life and community spirit. 

Obon Festivals, like those in Nakano, Shimo-Kitazawa, and Minato Mirai, showcase the cultural richness of Japan through traditional dances, modern music, and delicious food. They offer people of all ages a chance to participate in the dance, enjoy cultural performances, and create lasting memories with family and friends. What are your thoughts on this cherished tradition? Leave a comment below!

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