Bon Odori and Fusion Fridays

Bon Odori

A member of Kotobuki No Kai performs Bon Odori, Kotobuki No Kai will teach two dances at Fusion Fridays.

Throughout Japan, the summer Obon festivals usually include a form of group dancing called Bon Odori. While Obon festivities usually take place in July and August in Japan, we’re getting started a little early at tomorrow’s installment of Fusion Fridays, when Kotobuki No Kai will demonstrate and teach attendees some of these traditional dances.

Obon festival is a Japanese holiday with Buddhist and Confucian roots to honor one’s ancestors, and celebrates the filial piety of Buddha’s disciple Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren in Japanese). Mokuren had a vision of his deceased mother suffering in the afterlife, and asked Buddha how to alleviate her suffering. Buddha instructed Mokuren to give offerings to Buddhist monks returning from their summer retreat. Once he did this, his mother was released from suffering and Mokuren danced with joy.


Shuzo Ikeda, Mokuren, Japan, 1965, Woodblock print on paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Felix Jude, Pacific Asia Museum Collection, 1977.55.19

During this holiday, people visit and clean the graves of their ancestors. During this time, ancestral spirits are said to visit household altars. This is also a time for the community to gather for food, drink, dancing and fun activities while wearing yukata, the light summertime style of kimono. These festivals traditionally close as participants float illuminated lanterns down a river, symbolizing the departure of the spirits until the next year. Large Japanese immigrant populations have spread the Obon festival around the world, including Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and the U.S., and similar festivals are practiced in China and Korea.

Bon Odori dances vary across Japan, and musical accompaniment can vary as well. These dances have their roots in folk traditions welcoming the spirits of the dead and are performed by the entire community in a circle. At Fusion Fridays, Kotobuki No Kai will teach Tokyo Ondo and Kyushu Tanko Bushi. Tokyo Ondo is named for Japan’s capital, and involves a combination of claps and simple arm movements as the group moves in a circle. Kyushu Tanko Bushi, or “The Song of the Coal Miners,” is a regional dance from Kyushu that recalls the miners at the now-shuttered Miike Mine. Movements in this dance mime digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging, and gazing at the moon. As in Tokyo Ondo, the dance moves in a circle as the participants gesture.

With all the Obon festivities throughout Los Angeles in the summer, you’ll definitely want to learn Bon Odori at Fusion Fridays! And if that’s not your style, the evening also features Pacific Island dance performances, food trucks, art activities, and a cash bar in our courtyard. Tickets are available in advance on Eventbrite or at the door. ~CM


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