Nishimonai Bon Odori: Music and Dance for the Spirits of the Departed

Guide to Japan Travel Culture

Every summer in communities around Japan residents gather to dance in observance of Bon (or Obon), when the spirits of the departed are believed to visit the homes of the living. The Nishimonai Bon Odori, held on August 16–18 in Ugomachi, Akita Prefecture, has become well known and now attracts many visitors. The moves of the women participating in the odori (dance) are flowing and elegant, contrasting with the lively hayashi (festival music) performed by men on drums, flutes, and other instruments. Some of the dancers wear beautiful patchwork kimono (hanui) and conical straw hats (amigasa) folded down over their heads. Others, representing the spirits of the departed, are dressed in yukata and cover their heads, including their faces, with long black hoods.

Akita’s Nishimonai Bon Odori is considered one of Japan’s three great Bon dance events, along with Tokushima’s Awa Odori and Gifu’s Gujō Odori. It has been designated an important intangible folk cultural property.

(Originally published in Japanese. Created in cooperation with Cable Networks Akita.)

festival summer Tōhoku Akita