Japanese Town Dances to Remember the Dead
Obon is the time in Japan to pay respect to ancestral spirits. Japanese will travel to their home towns in order to pray at their ancestors’ graves. It’s believed the spirits of the departed return during the 3-day holiday – mainly in mid-August. These returning spirits are not to be feared like the ones that come with Halloween. In fact, they are welcomed and many communities put on a variety of celebrations.
One of the most common features of Obon is the Bon Odori, a special dance for Obon. Bon Odori dances vary from region to region each having their own particular form.
In the small town of Nishimonai in the northern prefecture of Akita, the locals perform a Bon Odori which is a mixture of an old harvest dance and a memorial to a fallen samurai lord.
The Nishimonai Bon Odori is unique in that some of the dancers were a black hood to represents the spirits of the deceased. Other dancers wear a patchwork kimono of silk fabric known as hanui and a woven straw hat called a amigasa.
The dancers’ faces are obscured by the hoods and straw hats giving the dance a surreal ghostly-like quality.
The singers sing in the old Akita dialect which many Japanese outside of Akita have difficulty understanding.