The west Tokyo neighborhood’s take on the centuries-old event is like bad medicine, and bad medicine is what I need.
As we have often covered in the past, mid-August is generally known as the Obon season in Japan. This is a time when tradition holds that the spirits of our ancestors return to the realm of the living to say “hi” and have a snack.
One of the cool things about Obon is that despite its longevity in Japanese culture, there isn’t a hard and fast set of customs that span the country. This means that spending Obon in one region can be completely different that another. For example, while people in one area enjoy making horses out eggplants, another makes Mad Max vehicles instead.
There are some threads of commonality, however, such as the Bon Odori or “Bon Dance” held during festivals. Like other customs of this holiday, the steps of the dance itself can vary widely from region to region but is generally done in larges groups using slow, easy-to-follow motions for participants both young and old. Here’s a taste.
Although there is no standard song for this dance either, it is usually set to an arrangement of traditional Japanese instruments like shamisen and taiko drums. But again, the highly flexible nature of the Obon season can sometimes yield some really interesting results.
For example, here’s a short clip from a festival held by Nakano Station in west Tokyo posted to Twitter by @hayatodelarossa.
はやとデラロッサ (@hayatodelarossa) August 14, 2018
Hopefully you had the volume up while watching that because then you’d be treated to the trippy sights and sounds of watching Japanese people do an age-old dance to Bon Jovi’s 1986 hit “Livin’ On a Prayer.”
However, the more you think about it, as the following commenters have, the more it kind of makes sense.
“That’s an Bon Jovi Odori!”
“I think “Livin’ on a Prayer” is a good match since the Bon Odori was originally a form of religious worship.”
“In Matsudo, we dance to ‘Gengis Khan.’”
“I thought it was Bon Jovi live on stage for a second. That would have really been something.”
“I think Bon Jovi should get automatic citizenship for that.”
“I like this modern style Bon Odori, anime songs work well too.”
“The Ebisu Bon Dance ends with ‘La Vie En Rose.’ It’s very cute with the hand movements.”
A classic song mixed with traditional Japanese culture and a dash of word play for good measure: What’s not to love? We can only hope that Japan’s recording industry copyright watchdog JASRAC was too busy shaking down barbershops playing obscure jazz on portable CD players to notice this one and let it slip by.
And so, it’s exactly the kind of adaptability illustrated above that has allowed this great piece of culture to thrive so many years since its inception. If you’d like to learn more about it, then please be sure to check out our other articles regarding Bon Jovi or visit your local library.