Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bon Odori last Friday and Saturday (August 8 and 9, 2014) went better than I expected! It was fun, had really authentic booths and Cebu's Japanese community were very accommodating and fun to be around.

Me with the guys and the pair who led the Bon-Odori dance

We first arrived on the first night of the event on Friday and my honest first thought as i entered the areas was that it desperately needed more lights in the field. We'll get back to the importance of that (at least in my opinion) later in the post. 

The first thing you'll notice at the event is the colorfully decorated stage at the center which we later learned was called the Yagura. For a little history, the yagura was originally a storehouse for bows and arrows or a fort during the feudal times. Now, during the summer festival, it is used as a stage where the musicians play Obon music and is the centerpiece that people dance around in a counter-clockwise direction. 

That's us dancing around the Yagura

Nanaho-san, the beautiful Japanese lady in the first picture, was someone Dan,'s lead designer, introduced us to and was one of the dancers that led the Bon-Odori. The dance was very elegant and graceful and not one person in the audience did it justice. We were flailing our arms around like monkeys desperately trying to figure out how to work it. My friend, Clint, eventually found a pattern and translated it for us simple-minded folk. "Dive, dive, wave left, wave right, wave left, wave right, clap - clap - clap" and you had to repeatedly do that in a loop until the music ends, which was a pretty long time. In time with the beat, dancers would yell "A Sore!" (ah-so-re) as a sort of "yell of encouragement" the Japanese call a Kakegoe. If you're new to the tradition and in the spirit of experiencing the culture, you would have so much fun dancing around for good fortune, which I did with a friend. We danced around for at least a good thirty minutes even though the circling crowd was thinning. 

It disappointed me, though, that most of the people who attended the event didn't have enough spirit to enjoy and experience the culture the Japanese community tried sharing with us. The simple yelling of the kakegoe and clapping of hands should have had life and joy and would have added so much more to the event had everyone participated.

After dancing the Bon-Odori the Mikoshi were brought around the yagura while everyone yelled "Wa shai!", another sort of kakegoe. The mikoshi were portable shrines believed to be vessels of the deities as they were transferred from one shrine to another. Yelling and volunteering to carry these shrines symbolized respect for the ancestors and good fortune for the year. Four mikoshis were being carried around, two for adults and two for children with both sets being carried by volunteers (not to mention the big-ass fan that followed them all around). Anyone could ride on the adult mikoshi which was a lot of fun. Carrying it around also gets you in the spirit of the event but it was hard reaching the poles when everyone else carrying it were at least two heads taller than you (the pains of short people).

Children's mikoshi

Adult's mikoshi

There were a lot of fun booths around in the field ranging from food stalls to festival games. Many of the goods sold at the festival were  pricey but I assumed that was because of the rent. A lot of them were good though and offered either Japanese food or products. There was also a CosCafe in one corner where you could pay for some cosplayers to dance for you.

Catch a ballon by it's string with a small hook and you get a water yo-yo

Chimpa's shop. Cebu's official association mascot

Catch the most fish with the least number of poi (paper nets)

The CosCafe with the event's cosplayers

Levi in his cleaning weirdness with Haruhi

I'm honestly not quite sure which anime they're from but I found them really cute

The Bon-Odori, the booths and a beautiful fireworks display symbolizing the end of each night were constants on both nights, all being the best parts of the two-day event for me. 

There were more programs though like the Yukata/Cosplay competition (that I missed huhu), a Wind Instrument children's orchestra, a Taekwon exhibition and a song number from Aisaku Yokogawa, a Japanese Original Pinoy Music singer. All of which were amazing to watch, for the ones that I managed to come across. And before I forget to mention, they threw Japanese-blessed candy at us taht would grand us good fortune! The experience was a lot like the mochi-throwing scene in the anime Barakamon for those who can relate with me (I feel you, Sensei).

I only caught one :(

Speaking at a technical point of view, a few suggestions I could give to the event organizers are 1) As I mentioned earlier, it would have been better to brighten up the field with proper lighting. Probably cut the costs from the fireworks display and spend it on the in-ground lighting. It'll give more spirit and energy to the people sitting on the field and the brightness would make event attendees more participative adding positively to the experience and 2) during the Bon-Odori, it would have been nice to have a few organizers in the grounds to help facilitate and start the flow of the circle surrounding the yagura. The reason many didn't participate long or didn't participate at all was that the circle created at random by the crowd was rowdy, had no sense of order and was quite dangerous for children to join in with the bodies squished together. Also, nobody could properly see the steps being demonstrated by the people on the yagura since the perspective was awkward and the decorative lanterns were in the way.

Overall the event was really fun for me and I feel really grateful to be able to experience the culture the Japanese community were so willing to share with us. It definitely fueled my inner otaku and made me appreciate the Japanese culture even more. I've always wanted to spend a year or so in japan to study their culture and language and hopefully that'll come true but this experience was pretty close.

And for you fujoshis out there, I just found my Bon Odori Cebu 2014 OTP.


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