In the evening around when the sun sets into the mountains on August 16th, the day of Obon, honoring the spirits of ancestors, the sound of drums starts resonating all around in Nishimonai and local dressed up children show the dance at the bonfire on Honmachi Dori street marking the opening of the three-day Nishimonai Bon Odori event. It was said to have started around 700 years ago, but when it was shown in Tokyo in 1935, its overall format took its final shape of what we see now. In 1981, the event was designated as one of the National Important Intangible Cultural Heritage with its highly artistic nature of traditional performing art format. Its traditions are firmly preserved, but nicely refined at the same time, and making new history every year.

Nishimonai Bonodori 西馬音内盆踊り

Bon Odori dance is said to have started in Heian period for the repose of ancestors' souls. Now the dance is accompanied by the music of drums and bells, but initially it used to be accompanied by chanting because they used to believe chanting would save the souls.

The dance ritual spread all around Japan and together with the socioeconomic and cultural background, the entertainment element was included. Currently, it is Japan's summer seasonal tradition in each township. Amongst many Bon Odori, Nishimonai Bon Odori is very special in a sense that it was registered as one of Japan's Significant Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. It is not a simple regular Bon Odori, but the passion of ancestors turned it into a group coordinated art format.

First, it's the outfit of Kimono. Then the straw hat and black head cover. The dancers are represented as the dead and ghosts. The scene at the site looks very bizarre. All the faces are hidden and the sophisticated dance moves without any deviation display some form of professionalism.

The dance's uniformity is really moving, with only two songs and watching the dancers for four to five hours per day. People born in Nishimonai region learn the dance from their parents and at local schools. They normally join the dance whenever they like to. They have a certain choreography to follow and there's no punishment for making mistakes, but it is the custom that the dancers are only the locals. This explains how perfect they dance. Hence, the atmosphere there is pleasantly tense.

The interesting point is that the melodies and the lyrics of the only two songs of Nishimonai Bon Odori are very encouraging and entertaining. The singers are various groups, so the voice tone differences and the cadence variations make it impossible to be bored. The dance site is the main street of the town, so all the participants are not too tense. All these elements in the atmosphere make up this Nishimonai Bon Odori dance a very unique event. There's nothing like it.

More coming

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