Thousands of Malaysians and Japanese expatriates come together to revel in the annual Bon Odori festival on a night of feasting and dancing.
SHAH ALAM: The gates to the Shah Alam National Sports Complex were scheduled to open only at 4.30pm. Yet, even by 3.00pm, traffic in the area had already noticeably increased, with congestion slowly but surely building up.
This was to be expected though, as Bon Odori has become a highly-anticipated annual event for many Malaysians.
As soon as the gates did open, visitors poured into the sports complex, with up to 1,000 festival volunteers helping to keep order.
Jointly organised by the Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur, the Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur and the Japanese Embassy, the festival is in its 47th iteration this year.
Aside from the hiatus caused by the pandemic, Bon Odori has been held yearly without fail since 1977.
As with previous years, many Malaysians showed up on July 22, with organisers estimating a total of over 30,000 attending this year’s celebration. There was a sizeable number of Japanese expatriates as well.
Many came dressed in their best traditional Japanese outfits, with even young kids and teenagers showing off their thick, colourful kimonos despite the hot and humid weather.
Outside of Japan, the Malaysian celebration of Bon Odori is the biggest in the world, a testament to just how welcomed Japanese culture is here.
This was evident everywhere at the festival, with Japanese tunes beating out of loudspeakers and the aroma of Japanese street food wafting through the air. The food stalls of previous years’ festivals were back, but in greater numbers this time – approximately 55 food stalls.
There were stalls selling sushi and sashimi as well as those selling skewers of expensive Wagyu beef, with two sticks costing close to RM30.
There was also plenty of sweet stuff to enjoy, the smoked ice-cream being particularly popular. Another hot-seller was the raindrop cake stall selling sweet, crystal-clear jelly.
Drink stalls also made a killing that night, particularly iced beverages. Several of these were loaded with goodies like taro balls and grass jelly.
Once visitors had purchased their treats, they made their way towards the area around the striped Kaguya.
The Kaguya is the raised platform at the centre of the stadium grounds, where most of the performances were held that night.
This year saw various cultural performances from Japan and Malaysia. A troupe of Malaysian dancers performed the Tarian Soblang Sari from Selangor.
And of course, there was the Nihon Buyou-Bu Dance, the Bon Odori Dance and the Waidako Dance, which visitors lapped up.
To get a good view of it all, most sat on picnic mats around the Kaguya, or on foldable chairs. Those who had brought neither got comfortable on the stadium’s artificial turf, which was unfortunately still damp from the previous day’s showers.
The stadium stands were also an option, providing visitors with an elevated view of the festivities and the festival grounds.
At 7.00pm, the first drum performance began, announcing the opening of the festival. The rest of the night was filled with dance and music.
At the press conference, Japanese ambassador Takahashi Katsuhiko said that Bon Odori’s annual success was attributed to the cooperation between Malaysia and Japan.
“The Japanese government and people are always ready to help Malaysians engage in Japanese cultural events such as this,” he said. “Inform us and we’ll be ready to help as much as possible.”
By the time the festival drew to a close at 9.30pm, it was clear that this year’s had been a resounding success – a testament to the universal and timeless appeal of Bon Odori.