Bon Odori was originally a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirit of ancestors. It soon evolved into a family reunion when people return to ancestral family places for holidays and to visit and clean their ancestors' graves. This tradition has been practiced in Japan for more than 500 years.
In Malaysia, there is a Bon Odori festival as well. It is held every year in the middle of July in Shah Alam, Matsushita Stadium and another venue on Penang Island. Both festivals might take place on a different date and time. I live in the capital of Malaysia, so I attended the Bon Odori festival in Shah Alam which is held inside an open-air stadium.
The first Bon Odori held here was 36 years ago and thus this year is the 36th Bon Odori. Quite similar to what we see in Japan, Bon Odori here is full of people, plus there were drum and dance performances by students from different schools throughout the capital and the Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur is the capital city of Malaysia). There are many companies, universities and lots of other government entities which have organized a group and attend this festival in a travel bus. Parking is a real headache because of the crowd, thus I had to get there by 4pm (2 hours before the festival starts) and still had to walk 10 minutes under the blazing hot sun.
As we can see from the picture above, they are already rehearsing for the night drum performance. Rehearsing for the night under hot sun is not an easy task.
Every year there will be food, lots of food and there is a big area - half as big as the area of the stadium - where all the food stalls are located at the side of the stadium. There are beers with alcohol, alcohol-free beers, teriyaki, sushi and many more.
The dance and drum performance starts at roughly 6pm in the evening.There are 3 sessions of the performance and the 3 sessions just repeat the previous performance.
The festival ends at around 9.30pm, being said that the event ends at 9.30pm there are still many people lurking around the stadium, walking around, having fun talks with each other and so on. Another interesting thing going on is the high discount for all food towards the end of the festival. I guess they do not want to waste the food thus they want to sell it out fast.
Even though Bon Odori is a Japanese custom to honor the spirit of ancestors, things are slightly different in Malaysia. Many take this opportunity to meet with friends, reunite with friends, families and relatives while some just enjoy the crowd and the festival itself. Overall it is an enjoyable event and it is a good opportunity for culture exchange between Japan and Malaysia since Malaysia does not have much large scale Japanese culture related events.