The lively dance becomes a silent dance to appeal to younger audiences.

When August comes around that means summer is in full swing in Japan, with cicadas constantly chirping, shaved ice on offer everywhere, and cities and towns nationwide celebrating Obon, one of the most important festivals of the year. Obon, in which our ancestors come back from the spirit world to say hello, features a lot of great events like food stalls, carnival games, lantern festivals, and, of course, the characteristic Bon dance, also known as Bon odori.

The Bon dance is a social gathering for people in each neighborhood to come together and have a good time while celebrating their ancestors. The moves are simple, slow, and easy to follow, so any one can join in. They’re also usually done in a circle around a multi-leveled, lantern-adorned platform, to the sound of traditional Japanese instruments like the shamisen, shakuhachi, and taiko drums.

▼ A traditional-style Bon odori near Tokyo Station

The moves and music tend to vary depending on the area in which the festival is held, but recently, the dance has been getting some pretty unusual twists. Some places have put aside the traditional Japanese music in favor of iconic ’80s tunes or other pop songs, like this one to Yoko Ogomine’s 1986 hit “Dancing Hero”.

But perhaps the strangest modernization of the Bon dance is the recent trend towards silent Bon dances. Just like a silent disco, a silent Bon dance is one where all the music is played through headphones instead of overhead speakers, transmitted out of an FM radio that everyone can tune into. For the people dancing, it’s probably like a normal Bon dance, but what results for passerby is a group of people silently doing hand gestures and clapping while walking in a circle. It can be…a little bit eerie.

Silent Bon dances are becoming more common because they help to reduce the noise of the festival, since loud music and taiko drumming often goes on for much of the night. Others are simply adapting the age-old festival to the times, keeping the bare bones of the tradition and adjusting it to make it more appealing for younger audiences.

It may look a little strange to those not wearing the headphones and hearing the music, but for those who participate, it’s apparently just like the real thing. “It’s fun,” says one festival-goer at Kanazawa City’s Tatechima Street Obon Matsuri, “We can hear the music so it doesn’t feel weird, and we do it just like a regular Bon Odori.”

▼ Some silent Bon dances are even done to music arranged by a DJ, like at this particular party, which seems to be a small community or friends-only event.

Japanese netizens, on the other hand, responded to a news article about the trend with a few amusing comments, generally making fun of the practice:

“What the heck? Scary.”
“If you’re just watching it from the sidelines it looks like some kind of weird ritual lol.”
“Seeing this in the middle of the night would be like a horror movie.”
“This is stupid. The ancestors can’t even participate!”
“I bet there’s going to be a quiz on TV about what kind of song they’re listening to just based on their dancing.”
“In the end we’re just going to have virtual reality Bon odori.”
“Next people are going to complain about ‘the sound of people talking and clapping’ ”

The last comment is a direct jab at Japan’s recent culture of complaining about loud noises in their neighborhoods, even going so far as causing cities to consider regulating the noise of schools. Being a country that’s always accommodating to the needs of others makes Japan a truly brilliant place, but in this case, you might be a bit of a scrooge if you complain about a festival that everyone enjoys, and which has considerable cultural significance.

Still, it’s pretty interesting to see the traditional culture of Japan mix with the modern, and to watch the evolution of Japanese culture happen right before our eyes.

Source: FNN Prime via My Game News Flash
Top Image: YouTube/Social Face
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