After the WW 2, the season, schedule, and the sense of the season of Japanese Bon Dancing is becoming more multifaceted.
However, all in all, Bon Dancing is an event in “Obon season”. There must be a reason why the Obon season was chosen. Here, we would like to approach the issue of “Why people dance in Obon season” while ordering the “season” which is the largest temporal framework.
Bon Dancing = “Obon” = mainly in August
The common-sense estimation is that since Bon Dancing is an event in Obon season, the season of Bon Dancing follows the season of Obon. In modern Japan, the image “Obon = August” is widely become established, and actually, many Bon Dances are held in August. If we look only at these facts, it may seem that you don’t need to take up the story especially. However, the issue is not so simple.
3 “Obon” issue
In fact, the season of “Obon” in Japan is not only one. In the present Japan, there are 3 periods of Obon due to the switch of the calendar from the lunar calendar to solar calendar in Meiji Era.
Apart from “Hachigatsu Bon (Obon in August) (also called the tsukiokure bon (Obon that comes one month later))” around August 15 of the solar calendar which we can see commonly in these days, there are seasons like “Shichigatsu Bon (Obon in July)” which is around July 15 of the solar calendar, and “Kyureki Bon (Obon in the lunar calendar)” which is around July 15 of the lunar calendar*
Even in present, there are Bon Dances which are famous nationwide that are held in Shichigatsu Bon and Kyureki Bon. The season of Obon and Bon Dancing is surprisingly diverse.
*Tsukudajima Bon Dancing is held in Shichigatsu Bon. It is held around July 15 of the solar calendar.
*Please refer to “Bon A-B-C” page 3 if you want to know why Obon season was divided into 3.
“Kyureki Bon” was the mainstream before WW 2
If we put it the other way around, until the Meiji Era, all Bon Dancings were danced in “Kyureki”.*1
After we entered the Meiji Era, it didn’t change to the solar calendar all around Japan immediately, and the era which the Obon of the lunar calendar being the mainstream continued for a while nationwide. However, “Hachigatsu Bon” became the mainstream after the WW 2, and accordingly, many Bon Dancings became to be held in August gradually.
However, people’s attachment to Obon and Bon Dancings held in the lunar calendar was strong, and there seemed to be various conflicts *2 in each region when they shifted the schedule of events to the solar calendar.
*1Incidentally, the season of Obon in the lunar calendar was autumn.
*2 The new and old Bon controversy of Awa Dancing is famous. (cf. Bon A-B-C
Bon Dancing as an event in summer
In these days, the period of Bon Dancing is becoming more and more “diversified” since the people’s sense to value “Obon” is waning gradually, and the period when people take summer holidays is becoming dispersed.
In the new Bon Dancings that started after the
WW 2, it is scheduled giving priority to the convinience of the local people and it is set in the appropriate period during the summer holidays in July to August, also considering the calendar schedule of Saturdays and Sundays. Therefore, Bon Dancing is strengthening its character as an event in summer.
In the other hand, old and traditional Bon Dancings are being affected. In the depopulated mountain villages in the countryside, it is necessary to call back the people who moved to other area, in order to hold Bon Dancings and other Bon events. So, there are many regions where they give up the old customs, and choose the period around August 15 as the period when many people can go back to their hometown.
The change and diversification of the period can be said that it is a deep-seated issue concerning the inheritance of the culture of Bon Dancing, because the characteristic of the period of “Obon” is the most basic characteristic of the public entertainment, Bon Dancing.
Bon Dancing in the amusing Summer Festival
Why do people dance in Obon ?
While keeping in mind these arrangements concerning the season of Obon and Bon Dancing, let’s think once again about the reason “Why do people dance Bon Dancing in Obon ?”
It was considered that for the Japanese people, summer is the season when the interaction with the nether world will become active.*1 “Obon”, being the peak of summer, and also the turn of the year to autumn was the season when various spiritual existences=”Shouryou (spirits)” come and go. There was an idea from the old times that consider the New Year and July as the turning point of the anterior half and the posterior half of the year and consider them respectively as the season of Tama matsuri when the spirits of the ancestors come to earth.
As for the type of the “Seirei (spirits)” that come to earth in Obon, commonly, it is divided into the following 3 types;
1. The ancestor’s spirits of Ie (A traditional concept of feudal connection of family in Japan) and/or Mura (A traditional concept of the closed and small community in Japan) *2 2. The spirits of Niibon (Shinseirei (The new spirit)) *3 3. Restless spirits such as people who died leaving no one to attend to his grave and hungry ghosts. And we can consider that Bon Dancing is a public entertainment that is engaged in holding a mass and sending off these spirits.
In relation with the type of each spirits, we can consider that; 1. “In Obon, the ancestors and the spirits of the relatives who are nostalgic to them come back to earth, so people dance to entertain them.” 2. “The spirits of Niibon are still unstable, so people dance to repose their soul” 3. “People dance to get rid of the evil spirits that are undesirable.” These concepts can be observed independently and in a multilayered way in Bon Dancings held in various regions, whether or not the dancers are actually aware of it.
We can consider that these religious and folksy reasons lie in the subcurrent of the culture of dancing Bon Dancing in Obon.
*1 Summer is the season of ghost stories and test of one’s courage, from ancient days. For your information, the lineup of the movies during the Obon season in Showa 32 (1957) are:
Kaibyou yonaki numa /Daiei
Kaidan kasanega-fuchi/Shin Touhou
Honjo nana-fushigi/Shin Touhou
Kaidan irozange kyouren onna shishou /Shouchiku
*2 Kunio Yanagita, the famous folk scholar paid special attention to this. However, it is cosidered that it is after the Edo era when the ancestor woshipping gathered ground in the “Ie” level of commons .
*3 Among various Bon events, Shinseirei is the most valued objective.
The Framework of Bon Dancing