Summer fun: Dance like your ancestors are watching

Bon Odori event sees locals joining Japanese in day of celebration, remembrance

Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Inomata plays traditional Wodaiko drums. PHOTO: VAQAS ASGHAR/ EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: People might be forgiven for missing it at first glance, but there is a lot of commonality between the historical cultures of modern Japan and Pakistan. Take the geta shoes worn by a number of Japanese people at the Bon Odori evening held at the embassy on Saturday. The elevated wooden shoes are very similar to the paduka shoes worn across the subcontinent since antiquity — a reflection of the historical Buddhist connection.

The colourful event saw almost every embassy official in attendance — including Ambassador Hiroshi Inomata and his wife Midori — wearing cotton summer kimonos called yukatas, and in many cases, getas on their feet.

The central attraction at the event was the Bon Odori dance, where people formed a circle around an elevated wooden platform called a yagura, on which Ambassador Inomata played the traditional Wodaiko drums.

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Inomata had explained that Bon Odori is a traditional dance performed in remembrance of one’s ancestors, and that the event was the second one of its kind. He added that they had invited more guests this year, and that traditional side events typical of the festival have been added.

Japanese women gave locals and people of other nationalities a quick demonstration of the basics before the ambassador took to the drums. Once the drumbeats started, dozens of smiling faces started performing the dance, which has a slight resemblance to the Punjabi luddi dance.

The ambassador was clearly in his element, and although the dancers were not perfectly synchronised, everyone gave it their best effort and seemed to enjoy the experience.

Later, guests were treated to a supper meal of local foods and Japanese delights such as sushi.

Urva and Fatima, two students at the event, appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to Japanese culture. “It was a really good event... although it was hot during the day,  but that’s summer in Pakistan,” said Urva, who added that he enjoyed the ‘fishing for balloons’ game. Fatima said that she got to learn a lot about Japanese culture and food, adding that the event was held in a pleasant environment.

Toshikazo Isomura, the public affairs counsellor at the embassy, explained that the dance is a traditional form which is performed in the summer.

“We would like to disseminate it among the people who want to learn about Japan,” he added, explaining that it is rooted in the Buddhist concept of rebirth, and is a form of entertainment to receive the souls of ancestors who may be around those performing the dance.

Peter Thulim and Mahyad Tavakoli, both from the Swedish Embassy, also appreciated the event.

Thulim said he enjoyed the day, “Especially the dancing. It was a perfect day and a nice evening. The People seem so happy. Plus, it’s always pleasant to visit another country’s embassy.”

Tavakoli added that she found the event really interesting as she is “fascinated with Japan and really happy to learn more about it”.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2015.



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