Bon Odori festivals are common across Japan, but nowhere is the dance so firmly rooted in the life of the community as at Gujō Hachiman, where the Gujō Odori has been going since the 1590s. Nearly every night from mid-July to early September, from about 8pm to 10.30pm in a different part of town (the tourist information centre can tell you exactly when and where), the locals don their yukata and geta and dance in the streets.
People dance in circles around a tall wood-and-bamboo structure from which a singer, drummers, flute player and a chorus call the tune. There are ten kinds of dances and the singer will call their name out before each one commences. Watch the hand and feet movements of those in the inner circle, as these are the people who learned these steps as children – then follow along!
During the O-bon holiday in mid-August, dancing goes on all night and thousands crowd the town to take part. Don’t worry if you can’t find a bed, since there’s always a place for revellers to rest during the night-long festivities – again check with the tourist office.