Two months ago, in May, the Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur happily announced that the Bon Odori festival is back in Malaysia after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic.
The event will be held at the Shah Alam Stadium on July 16 from 4-9pm, read a brochure on the club’s website. The co-organisers of the festival are the Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur and the Embassy of Japan. It is also supported by the Selangor government.
There is something we must give the Japanese – somehow, we have full confidence in them to organise almost perfect events, knowing their discipline, work ethics and attention to detail.
They lived up to expectation with the Tokyo Olympics, pulling it off successfully despite the obstacles and dangers posed by COVID-19, albeit a year late in 2021.
And didn’t we see the Japanese spectators cleaning up after them in the stadium at the end of the matches during the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
Discipline is a distinct part of Japanese culture and way of life; their strict adherence to it earns the Japanese deep reverence and respect throughout the world.
In the brochure, the organisers were detailed in the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for participants to ensure a safe, incident-free and enjoyable time for them at the Bon Odori.
Wear mask, no alcohol, no smoking, no hazardous items which can be regarded as weapons and drones are strictly prohibited as only the police can fly them. Best of all is the request not to wear high heels in order not to damage the turf in the stadium. Seriously, who can be more detailed than the Japanese!
Well, things didn’t go as well as planned, not because of the undoing of the organisers but because of objections from the religious authorities. What is most ridiculous about this sudden clampdown with the Religious Affairs minister advising Muslims not to attend the festival is that Bon Odori has been observed in Malaysia for decades.
Idris Ahmad reminded Muslims not to take part in the festival, claiming that the celebration was “influenced by elements of other religions”. His advice drew brickbats from many, including former diplomats.
However, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, the Selangor sultan, instructed the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) to allow the festival to proceed and also instructed officials of JAIS and the Shah Alam City Council to attend Bon Odori to “see for themselves” what takes place at the festival.
Last Saturday, July 16, some 50,000 visitors thronged the festival, a month after it came under scrutiny.
Lines of visitors, some garbed in traditional Japanese outfits, were seen building up outside the sports complex early. The first dance performance began at 7.15pm, followed by numerous other cultural dances, some of which saw the crowd taking part.
In his speech, Japanese ambassador Takahashi Katsuhiko touched on the history of the annual festival, which had helped foster diplomatic and cultural ties between Malaysia and Japan.
Organising committee chairman Dai Hoshiai told reporters that Bon Odori is solely a cultural event. He said 50,000 visitors had celebrated the festival this year, an increase of 15,000 from when it was last held.
My friend and fellow journalist, Andrew Sia, who attended his first Bon Odori posted on Facebook. “The dances and drum performances got the crowd engaged. Never seen so many Malaysian ladies of all races wearing kimonos.
“People walked for 10-20 minutes to get to the Panasonic stadium from where they parked. Long queues everywhere, to buy food and also for the shuttle buses to KTM Komuter station. So much effort for something Japanese. Hell, maybe Japan has won the war using culture rather than weapons?
“Many Malays in the crowd. So maybe that means PAS’ narrow version of religion kurang diterima?
“I enjoyed Bon Odori. Will come again. Maybe wearing a yukata.”
Thanks, Andrew, for that little write-up. You are right. Even Malay/Muslims will not pay attention to the fanatical and abhorrent views of the few usual suspects of fanatics in PAS.
The majority of Malaysian Malays/Muslims know better. They are able to see how beautiful it is to share Malaysia’s cultural diversity and tolerance and to celebrate the rich cultures of others as well.
At the end of it all, the brouhaha over the Bon Odori festival was much ado about nothing. It was yet another silly, time-consuming fight and debate over well,… nothing at all.
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.