The Bon Odori dance, once a community event and a midsummer ritual for consoling ancestors’ spirits, has evolved drastically in recent years, picking up popular disco and anime tunes and attracting people regardless of their age or nationality.
“Let’s take Bon dance to the world!” shouted DJ Koo, the leader of pop band TRF, before a crowd at the Bon Disco event held at Tokyo’s Kanda Shrine in late July, and those who had gathered for the crossover of Bon dance and disco roared in agreement.
With his turntable replacing Japanese drums on the stage around which people dance in one direction, DJ Koo played songs such as “Y.M.C.A.” and “Call Me” while dancers moved in sync, following the traditional moves of Bon dance.
“Unlike dance clubs where you dance on your own, you dance along with others, and it’s fun,” said Julien Legrand, a Belgium-born 35-year-old. “It’s easy to be a part of even if you are not accustomed to the traditional cultures of Japan.”
During the event, DJ Koo shared his experience of bringing Bon dance to orphanages and settlements in South Africa and Rwanda, where people danced to “Kawa no Nagare no Yo ni” (“Like the Flow of the River”) by Hibari Misora, a diva who died in 1989.
“Children’s eyes shined, and Bon dance reached people’s heart where words could not,” he said.
He is scheduled to hold a Bon dance at an event on Aug. 27, the day before the opening of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in Yokohama.
Traditionally, people danced to folk songs for Bon dance, but they were gradually replaced by enka ballads and popular songs with the spread of records and CDs.
Some Bon dancers have come up with original choreographies for modern music pieces, including Yoko Oginome’s “Dancing Hero,” which has become a classic for Bon dance in the Tokai region.
Last year, Bon dance in Tokyo’s Nakano area incorporated Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and a video of it went viral, particularly after the rock band shared it through its official Twitter account last August.
“Through social networking services, information is shared across regions, and young people are finding fun in (Bon dance), making it a pop entertainment,” said Bijo Ageha, an adviser to the Bon dance association.
This year’s event in Nakano will feature the theme song of the popular animation “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” titled “Zankoku na Tenshi no Teze Matsuri Spirit” (“A Cruel Angel’s Thesis Festival Spirit”) by Yoko Takahashi.
“Bon dance is a symbol of Japanese culture, just like anime songs, which have fans around the world. I hope I can bring people together through them,” said Takahashi.