A steady, pounding drum keeps time as a traditional singer croons into the microphone. Every other beat or so, a collective clap sounds out or the clacks of wooden geta sandals against the concrete. There are audience members sitting, listening and enjoying the sights and sounds, but the main event is the group dancing.
Summer marks the start of the rainy season, but it doesn’t hinder the abundance of festivals. Women and men, young and old, all come together in the parking lot of the Chichibuynomiya Rugby Stadium for the summer bon odori dance festival of Gujo Odori. Held this year at the end of June, the festival originated in Gujo-Hachiman, Gifu prefecture, and the musicians at this event were invited from there.
Some odori festivals occur in a parade-type fashion, with dancers proceeding down the street for onlookers to delight in. A great thing about this event was that anyone could participate.
Each dance lasts anywhere from five to ten minutes. Most people seemed to know the moves, but for beginners (i.e. not-so-great dancers) like myself, each dance is a repeated sequence of only a few moves so it’s easy to learn right away. Hundreds of people collectively yet individually dancing in a large circle can be quite a sight, but you’re all the more encouraged to join in.
It was wonderful to see so many people dress in seemingly endless designs of yukata—light summer kimonos—and geta (both sold at this particular event) but there was no dress code to participate in the festivities.
This event, going from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., had food vendors for the festivalgoers to enjoy including crunchy fried foods, yakizakana (grilled fish on a stick), ice cream, beer and even Starbucks.
There is a great bounty of festivals that occur everywhere, year-round in Japan, so if you’d like to see one during your visit, I would suggest searching “matsuri” or “odori festival” with the month and location that you’ll be in the country.