I finished the video below a few days before the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and has caused so much destruction and loss of life. It didn’t seem appropriate at the time to mention it.
As I’ve written about before in these pages, there is “something ethereal, something dreamlike” about the Japanese Bon Odori festival which takes place typically in August every year. No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite capture its essence in any other form than my own mental wanderings. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to try and try again.
That chronicler of so many things Japanese at the turn of the century, Lafcadio Hearn (known to those in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo), wrote a beautiful essay about the Bon Odori that perhaps comes closest to capturing how this festival makes me feel (you can find it in the collection, Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan, or here):
Under the wheeling moon, in the midst of the round, I feel as one within the circle of a charm. And verily this is enchantment; I am bewitched, bewitched by the ghostly weaving of hands, by the rhythmic gliding of feet, above all by the flitting of the marvellous sleeves– apparitional, soundless, velvety as a flitting of great tropical bats. No; nothing I ever dreamed of could be likened to this.
Even Hearn’s essay, through the voice of Akira, a young Buddhist acolyte accompanying Hearn, acknowledges that “you will see the Bon-odori danced here as it is never danced in cities–the Bon-odori of ancient days….[I]n the cities all is changed.”, and undoubtedly our local Bon Odori is even more removed from that which Hearn wrote about. It is as tacky and provincial as the cotton candy and tilt-a-whirls of my American childhood. But its charms are a part of the Japan I live in, a part of the Japan I never want to leave.