The Return of Bon Odori: Exploring Rich Japanese Culture

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The Bon Odori Festival is a cultural exchange between Cebu and Japan.

As we all know, Japan has a rich history and culture. This Asian powerhouse is filled with iconic dishes, world-renowned tourist spots, and art forms that have taken over pop culture.

The Land of the Rising Sun also has one of the oldest cultural festivals around the world, known as Bon Odori. This festival is famous for the simple dance routine performed during the ceremonies, similar to Sinulog.

The Japanese community in Cebu organized the first local Bon Odori in 2013, serving as a cultural exchange between the Philippines and Japan, letting Cebuanos experience its rich culture through entertainment, food, and the community.

Unfortunately, the event had been canceled for the past three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the organizers had to go back home to Japan to be with their families.

Bon Odori is one of the oldest cultural festivals around the world.

The cultural festival made its triumphant return to Cebu at a spacious lot across from Parkmall in Mandaue City, giving both old and new fans a taste of the modern and cultural Japanese lifestyle.

THE HISTORY OF BON ODORI

Obon is famous for the iconic Bon Dance.

Bon Odori is also simply called Obon, having been a fixture in Japan for half a millennia, typically performed in the middle of August. Some regions celebrate it on other days of the year based on their own tradition.

In Buddhism, it is believed to be the time when spirits of ancestors return to the human world and visit their relatives.

Japanese families make sure to pray and visit their ancestral homes to clean their ancestor’s graves, while paper lanterns are hung outside their houses to guide the spirits to their homes.

The Bon Dance was a tradition that transformed into a full-blown festival. It’s known for having dance steps that are easy to perform, inspired by everyday activities like scooping mud and harvesting rice.

The routine consists of dancers and drummers on a central platform, with an audience surrounding them as they perform their dance.

But the Bon Dance isn’t the only highlight of the event. The festival is also the perfect time to experience Japanese culture through the bustling businesses and lively performances.

After three days, a ceremony called the Okuribu is held, where participants light small fires that guide spirits back to the spirit world, signifying the end of the Bon Odori Festival.

BON ODORI IN CEBU 2023

The 2023 Bon Odori was definitely a momentous occasion for Japanese culture enthusiasts, otakus, and even foodies, who desperately wanted to celebrate the festival again in Cebu.

Souvenir shops sold tons of collectibles for anime lovers. There were several novelty items like shirts, bags, and action figures, all coming from some of the world’s most famous anime shows and video games.

Some stalls also offered services like henna tattoos and nail art. Participants could even rent a yukata, a cotton kimono typically worn during the event. This is known for being cool and comfortable to make dancing to the steps more convenient.

There were many household names among the food stalls, even those that specialize in Japanese street food dishes like takoyaki, taiyaki, and dango.

Lots of customers recommended trying the wagashi. This sweet treat is a luxurious dessert famous for its beautiful designs, created using an intricate and skillful process. It has a chewy exterior and is filled with red bean paste. It is also commonly served with a cup of green tea.

One stall sold yakisoba, one of the most popular ramen dishes in Japan, but with a twist. Rather than serving it in a large bowl, their yakisoba was served in a sub-style sandwich to make it easier to eat while walking around.

However, this cultural exchange would be incomplete without Filipinos serving their own local dishes. Some stalls offered sisig with rice as well as a few grilled barbecue dishes.

Established companies like Chegg’s, Yellowcab, and Kakka Dairy Bar were also present at the event.

Small-scale juice bars like Micology were available for guests who wanted to quench their thirst with some refreshing flavored juices. This has been a fixture in food parks like Sugbo Mercado and the Carbon Sunday Market

PERFORMANCES AND COMPETITIONS

Bon Odori promotes Japanese art forms through different performances and activities. As such, several competitions and demonstrations were held, some of which were performed by famous artists.

The Cebu Kendo Club presented a Kendo exhibition, demonstrating the iconic martial art and its history. This weapon-based martial art is widely known for being the fighting style used by Samurais in feudal Japan.

A karaoke competition brought contestants from all around Cebu singing out loud to famous Japanese songs.

Filipino contestants performed either a version of famous anime themes or Japanese ballads, while Japanese contestants also performed Filipino ballads.

The winner of this year’s competition was Takuya Ishii, who sang “Bakit Ba, Ikaw,” a Filipino ballad popularized by Filipino cover artist Michael Pangilinan.

Another contest that took place was the cosplay competition, where cosplayers showed off their dazzling costumes of characters from famous anime shows, comic books, movies, and video games.

The 2023 competition featured several costumes including a large Gundam costume, Hawkgirl, Madara from Naruto, and several characters from Mobile Legends Bang Bang. But the contestants weren’t the only ones showing off their fandom.

Other audience members came to the event as their favorite characters like Tanjiro from Demon Slayer, Anya from Spy x Family, and even non-anime characters like Ezio Auditore of the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

The organizers also invited Japanese artists like Ayomi Ozora, Yuki Horikoshi, and GOCOO. Ayomi Ozora sang various Japanese songs, while GOCOO lit up the stage with their dazzling drum beats.  

Yuki Horikoshi, on the other hand, brought some stand-up comedy to the event. Speaking in Tagalog, he brought his witty sketchpad comedy to the festival, talking about the culture shock moments he has had in the Philippines.

No doubt, Bon Odori is the perfect place to learn and experience Japanese culture in Cebu, from its clothing and cuisine to its arts and entertainment. The festive energy is so infectious that more and more Cebuanos will surely want to experience the Japanese way of life through the many activities of this summer festival.

You can join in on the festivities, dance to the beats, and watch the ceremony in person. As it made its triumphant return to the Queen City of the South, we can finally see a lot more of this cultural event in the near future.

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