The issue of the number of days – one day or several days ?
If we pay attention to the “number of days” of the day/days of the dance, we can distinguish them between “only one day” or “several days”.
The examples of “only one day” can be seen in both modern Bon Dancings and traditional Bon Dancings, but it seems that “several days” is widely seen in the traditional Bon Dancings. Even in the records of the 15th century which draws the aspects of Bon Dancings of its oldest days, say that Bon Dancings were danced in several days. *
The pattern of the schedule of Bon Dancings in the regions of plural schedule (the festival held during several days) varies, but it seems to get centered on and continues around the period of “Mukae (greeting the spirits) and Okuri (sending off the spirits)” which is from August 13 to 16. There are days for dancing during the Jizo Bon (Ura Bon) after August 16, and there are several cases that they dance until the Odori osame (final dance) of Hassaku (Some parts of Nara Prefecture).
It is interesting that Kodera Article introduces regions where they have the belief that “In the first night, people dance for the new spirits, and after the second night, people dance for the old spirits.”
* For instance, in the diaries of Kyogaku “Kyogaku Shiyoushou” who is the resident priest of Koufuku-ji Daijouin, the aspect of Bon Dancing (Furyu Dancing) in Nara on July 16 and 18, Chouroku 2 (1458) is vividly described. It starts from around July 15, but they dance until around the end of the month.
The length of the festival period of Bon Dancing – There are regions that people dance for nearly 2 months.
The number of days of Bon Dancing becoming plural relates to the length of the festival period of Bon Dancing.
The festivals that are famous for its festival period being long are Gujo Dancing and Shirotori Dancing of Gifu Prefecture. The festival period of Bon Dancing continues for nearly 2 months from Odori Hajime (Start of the dance) in mid-July to Odori Osame (Final dance) in early September, and it is held for more than 30 days. (People dance for more than 30 nights during July to September.)
Also in Nara prefecture, there were festivals that were held for a long period of time.
In these regions, it can be expected that Bon Dancing occupies a large position in every day life of the local people.
The Timetable of Gujo Dancing
The reason of the “lenghthening of the schedule”
It is indeed a long festival period, but it can be considered that it is a phenomenon resulting from the overlap of the old and the new contributing factor.
If you want to know about the historic background of the lengthening of the schedule, a book called “Mura no asobibi (The holiday of the villages)” would be of a help.*1The book proves that the holidays of mura (A traditional concept of the closed and small community in Japan, or simply a village) including Obon has increased rapidly in the latter period of Edo Era and this was promoted by the lads of the village (young people).
In the latter period of Edo Era, the energy of the young people wanting to dance more and enjoy more, rode roughshod over the upper echelon of the mura and increased the “Asobibi” and “Yasumibi” (holidays) which was also the rule of the mura. *2
The book proves that the holidays of mura (A traditional concept of the closed and small community in Japan, or simply a village) including Obon has increased rapidly in the latter period of Edo Era and this was promoted by the lads of the village (young people).
It can be considered that these movements worked as a factor of the lengthening of the period of Bon Dancing.
The improvement of the economic level of mura (village) can be considered as the background of this fact. Furthermore, in this era, the religious control over the “festival” in the mura (village) which was originally rigid came loose, and the aspect of the “festival” as enjoyment increased gradually.
*1 Written by Sadao Furukawa, published by Heibonsha
*2 For your information, “Asobibi” or “Yasumibi” was not “a day that you can get an off”, but “a day that you must get an off”. There is word saying that; “The lazy man puts on a show of being industrious, by working when everyone else is enjoying a public holiday.” Those who worked on a holiday may have actually punished by the village society.
Various devices were performed to increase the number of days of dancing. For instance, the lads of the village of the neighboring villages arrange the date of Bon Dancings by putting off the date of their own Bon Dancings. And in the days of Bon Dancings of each villages, people participate from other villages for the sake of “friendships”, and they actually increase the number of the days of dancing to retain the number of participants.* In the Edo Era, the exchanges (including quarells) related to Bon Dancing between the villages and the lads of the villages were widely seen. * The famous Tohoku san dai matsuri (The 3 largest festivals in Tohoku region) also puts off the schedules of each other at the present day. By doing so, they prevent the scramble of the visitors, and they can expect the effect of migration and synergy. People think the same way in every times.
In the Meiji Era, there was a crackdown on Bon Dancings, but by the coming of the Taisho Era, rivival and activation of Bon Dancing was widely seen and the movement of the increase of the number of the days of the festival was also observed thanks to the renaissance of the local culture. Some people paid attention to Bon Dancings to its potential as tourist resources.* * In Tokushima prefecture, Zenkoku Awa Odori Caravan (Awa Dancing Caravan Nationwide) has started in Taisho Era, by the mastermind of the writer Koroh Hayashi.
Bon Dancing comes to the last flourishing period after the WW 2. The expansion of scale, the unification of style, and the number of festival days were increased from the viewpoint of promotion of the local tourism.
In the other hand, Bon Dancing was already coming to a sunset below the surface after the high-growth period, due to the population decrease in the local regions, dissolution of the communities, and the diversification of leisure and youth culture. At the present day, there are few factors for lengthening of the festival schedule, and it can be considered that the increase of the schedule of Bon Dancing has quieted down in the period of Showa era.
The schedule of dancing besides the real part – rehearsal dancing, etc.
We have referred to the dates of “the real part” of Bon Dancing, but there were many regions which they set a period of rehearsal before the real part. The article of Kodera introduces terms such as “Narashi (break in)”, “Keiko Odori (rehearsal dancing)” against the word “Hon-odori (The real dancing). A period of rehearsal became to be needed so that the participants can dance properly in dances which the choreography and the way to get the right timing is difficult, and in dances which the number of songs which is handed down orally are abounding.
At the same time, the preparation for rendition such as making of large and small props seemed to have been done in these periods. These preparations done while staying in wakamono-yado (a facility where young people gathered and stayed) might have been one of the amusements of Obon.
It seems that in many cases the schedule of Keiko Odori (rehearsal dancing) has started with the beginning of the so-called “Bon no iri (the entrance to Obon)” in days such as July 1st or July 7th. Masao Fujii introduces the example of Bon Dancing of Izuhara in Tsushima Island * which they start the rehearsal in June.
In addition to this, in the modern times, Bon Dancing is danced in various seasons besides the Obon season, in the form of participation to various folk art festivals and tourism events.
* In Kune-inaka Izuhara-cho Shimo-agata county Nagasaki prefecture, although being Kyu Bon (Obon in the lunar calendar), calls June 15th “the sugatame of Bon Dancing” and determine the roles of the dances after all the members of the dancing group get together, and coach the entrants. They
consider this day as the Bon iri (the entrance to Obon). (“Urabon-kyou” written by Masao Fujii published by Kodansha)
In the old days, there were many regions which prohibited to dance after the day of “Odori osame (finish dancing)” and allowed to dance only when the Obon season of the next year comes, like Niino Bon Dancing. However, by the change of the sense of religious folk feeling and the breakup of the local community, these taboos are losing its effectiveness.
Although the lengthening of the festival period of the dance has stopped, the diversification and diffusion of the dance schedule would likely to proceed from now on.