Gujo City located in Gifu Prefecture is host to a 400-year-old dance festival centered on the Obon celebrations, which takes place from mid-July to early September. The festival peaks from August 13 to 16, during which time dancers perform all night long from 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM. Unlike Awa Odori, another Obon dance festival, there is no gender-based dance style. There are 10 dances from the upbeat type to the slow paced one and everyone is encouraged to join in. The festival came to be described as “a dance to be danced,” rather than “a dance to be viewed” and no special costume is needed to participate. However, if you want an authentic experience, rent a cotton summer yukata (available at some ryokans and shops) and a pair of geta (wooden sandals). You will find that there are plenty of people who will happily show you the moves or you can even take afternoon dance lessons at the Gujo Hachiman Kinenkan Tourist Center during the Gujo Odori season!
In total, there are ten Gujo Odori songs. Each song is danced to in a specific order, however, not every song is danced to every night. On some nights, you may find that only eight songs may be danced to, while on other nights nine or ten songs may be danced to. It often depends on the mood of the crowd!
The song, “Old Kawasaki” is always danced to first. The remainder of the songs include, “Kawasaki,” “Harukoma,” “Gengen Balabala,” “San Byakku,” “Yacchiku,” “Neko no Ko,” “Sawagi,” “Gujo Jinku,” and “Matsusaka,” the last song played.
There are different stages set up throughout downtown Gujo City and music flows through the streets so you can essentially dance anywhere. Strings of lights decorate the buildings and in true matsuri fashion, stalls offering taiyaki (fish shaped sweets with sweet red bean paste inside), karaage (fried chicken), cotton candy, yakisoba (sautéed noodles with pork and vegetables), crushed ice and candied apples line the streets.
There are toys and games for the children and it is all a very magical and joyous atmosphere. The entire point of the festival is to have fun, make new friends and experience traditional Japan in a way that is unique to Gujo Hachiman.