I have always been a fan of Japanese food, and like visiting Japan. So when a friend told me about Manila Japanese School's event, I jumped at the chance to taste Japanese culture, not just in their food, but how they celebrate a traditional festival. It was also very convenient for us, as the school is located not far from our condo. It was like visiting a neighbourhood event.
I was informed by my Japanese friend that Bon Odori Festival is a festival to honor dead ancestors. This is similar to many cultures. "Odori" refers to folk dances, and "Bon" is a contraction of "Obon", a buddhist festival in which people remember departed friends and loved ones. This was the 19th Bon Odori Festival held in Manila. Like previous years, a platform (yagura) was set up in the middle of the school yard to house the taiko drum, and red lanterns that symbolize the souls of the ancestors were hung around the platform. You can see the set up in the video.
Admission was free, and every one was welcomed. Visitors were required to sign in and had their bags inspected. There were games stalls and stalls selling food and other items. Each game cost P50 and food items were sold at reasonable prices. For example, a stick of beef barbecue cost P130.
At the foot of the platform, space was marked by cones, and everyone seemed to know that the cones set the boundary on the ground beyond which no one was allowed to sit down or put their stuff. It was to reserve the space for the dancing that was part of the festival.
According to a source, "the guiding atmosphere of Bon Odori is to set aside the ego and dance freely as though no-one is watching." I guess outsiders were too shy to participate in the dance, as the dancing we saw was very orderly and done by people wearing some sort of costume.
Nonetheless, outside the reserved area, people were free to put down their mats as if they were on a beach. Tables were provided for visitors to consume the food purchased from the stalls, but a lot of people seemed to prefer to sit on the mats that they brought from home. It was a very relaxing occasion. People drank beer and ate Japanese food items bought from the stalls, while kids ran around, playing in the bouncy castles for small kids, or trying their hands in catching goldfish with paper scoops, or other traditional Japanese festival games.
There were about twenty food stalls at the festival. We happily downed barbecued pork and beef and sushi, and could not find space for takoyaki with chocolate, even though they looked scrumptious :(.
While the odori dancing was held around the platform, at one corner of the school yard, space was set aside for student performances. Groups of students performed their numbers to the beat of pop music, and parents clapped supportively after each performance.
I was hoping to see the firework at 8pm, but after drinking a can of Kirin beer, I felt very sleepy, and it was only 7pm. Since my kid had ran out of things to do, we decided to head home, and missed the spectacular event! Next time, I will hold the beer drinking until after the firework.