Japan: Toyama (Owara Kaze no Bon)

In the rustic town of Yatsuo nestled in the southern mountain range of Toyama City, an annual festival, which has been in existence for over 300 years takes place from September 1 to September 3 and draws over 250,000 visitors.

The festival is called Owara Kaze no Bon, which literally translates to Bon Dance of the Wind. It was originally held in order to pray for protection from the typhoons and allow for a bountiful rice crop. It corresponds to the 210th day from the first day of spring according to the traditional Japanese calendar and is considered a day often beset by calamities.

What makes this festival so unique is that it is held at night. The streets are decorated with paper lanterns and long rows of young men and women, their faces covered by low-brimmed straw hats, dance simultaneously to mournful music. Unique to the region, this particular style of music utilizes the kokyu, a rare bowed string instrument, and a traditional shamisen, a three-stringed instrument played with a plectrum called a bachi.

The dancers wear matching kimonos (women) and short jackets (men) along with straw hats covering their faces. It is said that they do this in order to hide themselves from the wrath of the god they hope to appease.

Another rare feature is that the dancers are all unmarried and they participate in the dance to show off and meet other young unmarried people.

The song that the dancers dance to is called Ecchu Owara Bushi. The dance is performed in an area extending about 2 miles and carries with it a dark atmosphere that many describe as creepy. As with any festival there are games, traditional foods and the opportunity to pick up unique trinkets at the shops lining the streets. Ecchu washi (Japanese paper) is a popular souvenir for visitors to Owara Kaze no Bon.

The festival site is 40 minutes on foot from the Ecchu Yatsuo Station on the JR Takayama Honsen Line.

Yatsuo

Yatsuo

 

Kokyu

Kokyu

Shamisen

Shamisen

 

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Ecchu Washi

Ecchu Washi

For more information, visit the Toyama events page at: http://www8.city.toyama.toyama.jp/kanko/english/e_event/e_07.html

 

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