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Cool Japan / Festivals of Japan / Dancing till the break of dawn

Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture.)

To an outsider, it might sound kind of spooky to learn that midsummer is when the souls of our ancestors are said to descend to this earthly world to briefly check up on our well-being.
And in no time at all, they’re off again to spend another year in the spiritual world. This is the time of Bon odori dance festivals in Japan.
In neighborhoods everywhere, residents gather at their local shrine, village square or school playground to dance in a circle to the beat of hayashi music of flutes, drums and song, usually with words unique to the locale.
Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(Participants in the Gujo Odori appear to be in a trance as they dance through the night in Gujo, Gifu Prefecture.)

The town of Hachiman in the Gujo region of Gifu Prefecture boasts a dance tradition kept up over about four centuries and called Gujo Odori.
Here, from July through early September, residents and tourists kick up their heels like long-lost friends. Anybody can join in the dance moves which are so easy. The climax comes at the height of Bon in mid August when all-night dances are held. By the end of the session, many participants appear as if they are in a trance-like state.
Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(Participants in the Gujo Odori festival crowd around a stall where musicians play hayashi
festival music as the 2009 festival draws to a close.)
Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(A "geta" clog manufacturer assemble the footware essential for the festival.)

It is best enjoyed by jumping in with the crowd and imitating the moves of those around you.
But if you would rather be a spectator, try the Tsushima Tenno Festival held annually on the fourth weekend of July, in Tsushima, Aichi Prefecture.
With a 500-year history, this is one of three most famous river festivals in Japan.
Five boats are used, each decked out with 365 lanterns representing the days of the year and decorated in the shape of a half sphere. The festival supposedly started as a form of prayer to ward off pestilence.
Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(Boats covered with lanterns create a mystic spectacle at the Tsushima
Tenno Matsuri festival in Tsushima, Aichi Prefecture.)

Also noted for large lanterns is the Kiriko festival of Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, site of many onsen hot springs along the stretch of beautiful coastline.
The large vertical lanterns kiriko date back to the Edo Period (1603-1867). They were used to light the route for night time mikoshi portable shrine parades, and also as and security as kiriko bearers are guards of the sacred shrines.
Among the many kiriko festivals in the region, the Ishisaki Hoto festival in the city of Nanao stands out.
Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(Paraders pull a giant "kiriko" float in the Ishisaki Hoto festival in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture.)

It takes 100 men to carry a single 15-meter-high kiriko, weighing around 2 tons.
Festivities climax twice daily, around 4 p.m. and 11 p.m., when six kiriko are carried around a square after parading through the narrow streets.
As night falls, the lanterns are lit, creating a very special atmosphere.

* * *

The Gujo Odori dance will be held from July 14 through Sept. 8 this year. The venues can be reached by a loop line bus serviced from Gujo-Hachiman Station on the Nagaragawa Tetsudo Line, about 2 hours from Nagoya.

The Tsushima Tenno festival is held on the fourth Saturday of July at the Tsushimajinja shrine near the Meitetsu Tsushima Station, about 18 minutes by special express from Meitetsu Shin-Nagoya Station.

Dancers participating in the Gujo Odori festival add flair to the traditional landscape of Gujo, Gifu Prefecture. (Toru Nakata)
(Paraders pull a giant "kiriko" float in the Ishisaki Hoto festival in Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture.)

The Ishisaki Hoto festival, held on the first Saturday of August, is a fixture of seven communities in Ishikawa Prefecture. The main venue is about 10 minutes by foot from Wakuraonsen Station on the Noto Tetsudo.
(Via AJW)

By TS on Apr 8, 2012
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