GEORGE TOWN: The charms of Japan have returned to Penang with the Bon Odori Festival 2022 at the Esplanade.
The first to be held since the pandemic, it drew a crowd of several thousand with an array of family-friendly cultural activities spread across around 100 stalls here yesterday.
These offered everything from games and food to souvenirs, photo backdrops and even yukata rentals, while the main stage hosted music and dance performances.
Many were spotted in colorful summer kimonos, including a group of biological science students from an island university.
The students came from different states across the country but shared a common love for anime and decided to experience the Bon Odori for the first time.
“We wanted to experience the atmosphere,” shared Simone Yee, 22, from Kuala Lumpur, between shots of the main archway adorned with cherry blossoms, lanterns and giant koi.
Go Ming Hui, also 22, from Melaka, joked, “We actually have finals on Monday. But we work hard and play hard!
Head nurse Noor Aini Zulkifli, 41, accompanied by her husband and three children, also participated in Bon Odori for the first time.
“It’s a good opportunity to discover the culture of another country. We’ve never been to Japan, so it’s good to get a taste of it here in Penang,” she added.
Japan’s Ambassador to Malaysia, Katsuhiko Takahashi, said he was delighted that the popular event could be held again, as this year marked the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries as well as the 40th anniversary Malaysian Politics Look East.
“Le Bon Odori testifies to the cordial bilateral ties that we share. It is also an opportunity for our peoples to bond and strengthen their relationship year after year,” Takahashi said in his speech.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said such events help build bridges for mutual understanding, which is important in this era of globalization.
Also present were Penang Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak, Consul General of Japan in Penang Hiroyuki Orikasa and Yeoh Soon Hin, Chairman of the State Committee for Tourism and Creative Economy.
The event ended with raffles and a big fireworks display.
On July 16, the festival returned to Selangor after a two-year hiatus with an estimated attendance of 35,000 at the Shah Alam Sports Complex.
The multiracial crowd swarmed the event despite Prime Minister Datuk Idris Ahmad’s department minister appealing to Muslims to stay away, as he said Bon Odori had “elements of other religions”.
This led the Ruler of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, to order the State Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) not to prevent anyone from attending the ‘cultural event’.