Years ago, I remember begging my parents to let me experience the Bon Odori Festival, an event held every year to showcase the traditional ‘Bon’ dance and Japanese culture. Bon is performed during Obon (the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese Ching Ming or All Souls Day), to honour the spirits of dead ancestors and loved ones.
After much grumbling, they drove me to Shah Alam where it was being held, but we ended up getting caught in massive traffic and Moo said to cancel the trip. Teenage me was disappointed, and I never asked them to drive me there again. All these years I never got around to going to the festival… until I randomly decided to go for it last weekend with the Bro.
Knowing that traffic was going to be bad, we drove to the nearby KTM Shah Alam instead, where there were shuttle buses. The line was pretty long but we only had to wait about 20 minutes. Good thing too, because when we got to the Panasonic Stadium area, where the festival would be taking place, there was almost a complete gridlock of traffic, with cars parked all over the road and even on the roundabout (!). Alighted and walked about 1km to the stadium.
Just in time for the first drum and dance of the night at 7PM. The place was super crowded. People were jostling and crowding at the stalls to the right of the field, with long queues waiting for food. I was actually quite disappointed because there were only food stalls and one renting/selling out yukatas, and nothing else. This year’s was the Festival’s 41st edition, celebrating 60 years of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and Japan, so I was expecting more variety showcasing Japanese culture, or at least an exhibition.
The stage was set in the middle of the field, with people crowding around its edges, so it was really like watching teeny people move around from a distance. The traditional Japanese music playing over the speakers was good though.
There were a number of people dressed up in yukatas; although not all were Japanese. I think people just like the experience of wearing a cultural costume. I tried wearing one in the hot Japanese summer once, and it wasn’t very pleasant.
The bruh and I were very hungry so we decided to grab food from whichever stall had the least people – bad idea. The overpriced unagi bowl (RM15) was extremely sad, consisting of two thin slivers of fishy-smelling unagi, wet rice, a soggy fishcake/tofu and cucumbers.
We were still hungry but the lines were so long I think midnight would have arrived by the time we got to the front of the queue, so we got some quick yakitori skewers to fill up our tummies for the time being. These were nicely basted and grilled over a charcoal fire.
I’m not used to venues that are so packed (unless it’s a rock concert, by which I would grit my teeth and bear it for the music), so the noise and sea of people was giving me a headache. There wasn’t much to do but wait for the next performance and fireworks.
The highlight at 8PM – Fireworks! They were absolutely spectacular – one of the best fireworks displays that I’ve ever seen, and they lasted a good 5-6minutes. Every time we thought that was the end, more came shooting up and formed beautiful, dazzling patterns across the night sky. Made the whole wait and commute worth it to be honest. Video below:
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the whole experience, but I think this will be a one-off thing for me. The crazy crowd and the lack of variety in the stalls aren’t worth the drive and time. Of course, everyone has different opinions and I’m sure other people might find it fascinating, so to each their own! 🙂