【Vol.05】Bon odori lesson for seasoned visitors who want something more than a typical Tokyo sightseeing tour

Taste the local food at a stall, dress up in a yukata,
and enjoy midsummer Tokyo to the max

Bon odori festivals come in all shapes and sizes. Large events can attract tens of thousands of people, much like a music festival, and small events might take place on the street corner.

In any case, most bon odori venues are lined with stalls selling a variety of local foods. Let’s start out by trying a couple of dishes as we take stock of the big picture. The food stalls might sell steaming hot, appetizing matsuri-festival standards like yakisoba (stir fried noodles) and takoyaki (octopus balls), or a selection of local specialties. Other stalls will offer nostalgic games like quoits and shooting games that are a magnet for children.

At a basic level, bon odori has no dress code: you are welcome to show up wearing anything you like. But remember that this is a good opportunity to try on the traditional Japanese yukata (summer kimono gown). With the rise in popularity of yukata among youth in recent years, Tokyo is home to a growing number of classes that teach yukata fitting at a reasonable price. Some even have English-speaking instructors and can be found easily online.

Join the circle of dancers
and discover another dimension of Tokyo

Now that you’re all dressed up in a yukata and have replenished your energy at the food stalls, you should be ready to take the plunge and join the circle of dancers. Don’t know any dance moves? That’s okay. Beginners are invited to start out learning by imitation, or even just walking with the flow of the circle. No dancer is about to criticize you for omitting the hand gestures.

Notice that the view is entirely different from outside and inside the circle. Outside the circle, you are merely a spectator. But once inside it, you get to be part of the bon odori itself.

The dance moves are actually quite simple. Any given dance is made up of a repetition of easy patterns. Just try mimicking the person next to you, and you will have mastered that song’s moves before you know it.

Also, quite a few video tutorials of bon odori dance moves are posted on YouTube.* You may feel more confident if you practiced standard numbers at home—the likes of “Tokyo Ondo” and “Tanko Bushi” are guaranteed to come up at any festival in Tokyo—before making your debut at the bon odori venue.

“Tokyo Ondo” (Kochokai)

At the end of the day, the real attraction of bon odori is that you get to know that particular community through an evening of dancing. If you are a seasoned visitor who wants something more than the typical Tokyo sightseeing tour, try experiencing Tokyo through the lens of bon odori.

* YouTube is a registered trademark of Google LLC.

Text: Hajime Oishi  Photographs: Keiko Oishi
(This is a "Tokyo Tokyo Old meets New" Project.)