Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

Dance Through the Night at Gujo Hachiman

Photo: つだ on Flickr

Dance Through the Night at Gujo Hachiman

John Asano

Gujo Hachiman is a picturesque riverside town nestled in the stunning mountains of Gifu Prefecture. The small town has a growing reputation as a tourist hotspot and is often called “Little Kyoto” due to its many temples which can be explored on foot from the town centre.


Photo: Ben W on Flickr

Every summer crowds of people descend on the quiet and relaxed town for the famous Gujo Bon-Odori, one of the three most famous traditional dance festivals in Japan. For a period of 32 nights from mid July to early September people from all over Japan celebrate this amazing 400 year old summer tradition with high-energy frenzied dancing.

The Gujo Bon Festival Dance or Gujo Bon-Odori in Japanese is one of the must see summer festivals in Japan. If you love your dancing, I recommend visiting from August 13th though to August 16th where the townsfolk dance through the night until dawn. These are the four main days of the festival and is called Tetsuya Odori in Japanese. It is an unforgettable experience and everyone is welcome to join in and participate.

It is also fun to just watch with many people dressed in yukata, a traditional summer kimono and wearing wooden geta sandals.


Photo: つだ on Flickr

Bon Festivals are a Japanese Buddhist custom in mid-August to honour the spirits of ancestors. It is believed that the spirits of our ancestors revisit the family home at this time of the year. Bon Festivals have been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally include a dance, Bon-Odori.

Bon-Odori varies from region to region in Japan, but is usually performed around a central wooden stage called yagura (tower), where the musicians perform. The stage is lit at night with multi-coloured lanterns creating an enchanting atmosphere.

The Gujo Bon-Odori Festival follows a tradition that first started in the 1590s in Gujo Hachiman when the local lord, Endo Yoshitaka combined all the local Bon Festivals in the villages to make one large event, so that everyone danced together. It was his aim to bring all the people together regardless of social level or position. It was a great idea and is one that has survived to this day, making it a truly unique and fascinating event.


Photo: Ben W on Flickr 

The festival spirit remains today and brings both locals and visitor together. The heart and soul of the festival is the dancing and everyone is encouraged to dance and join in on the fun. The dance is actually quite easy to learn as it is slow and repetitive. The best way to learn it is simply watch the locals and follow what they do.

The music for Gujo Bon-Odori is always performed live by a small group of singers and musicians, who sit in a small float that is located in the center of the dancing circle. Traditional Japanese musical instruments such as the shamisen, bamboo flute and taiko drum are used by the musicians.


Photo: つだ on Flickr 

This year the Gujo Bon-Odori will run from July 11 to September 5 with an estimated 300,000 people expected to visit Gujo Hachiman for the festival.

You can find out more about the Gujo Bon-Odori schedule and times at the official website.

Gujo Bon-Odori is a unique traditional dance that brings together people from all over Japan. What are you waiting for? Let’s join in with the fun and dance the night away in Gujo Hachiman.


Photo: つだ on Flickr


The best way to reach Gujo Hachiman is via a Highway Bus from the Meitetsu Bus Center in Nagoya.