Bon Odori is a yearly Japanese summer festival held in Malaysia by the Japan Club of Malaysia and the event features Japanese activities such as traditional dances, food and merchandise stalls.
The event first started in 1977 where Japanese schools and their parent-teacher associations (PTA) organised to remind their children of home and teach them Japanese culture. Soon, the number of participants grew and it has now become a much-awaited annual event of about 35,000 participants each year.
After a 2-year lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the annual Bon Odori festival is making its return next month on 16 July in Shah Alam.
However, the festival has met with disapproval by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs), Datuk Idris Ahmad as he urged Muslims to not go to the popular Japanese cultural event Bon Odori.
“Muslims are advised to not take part in the Bon Odori Festival as there are elements of other religions that clash with the teachings of Islam.” he was quoted as saying by Utusan.
Idris added that research conducted by JAKIM has confirmed the presence of such elements in the Festival.
He also said that the Bon Odori festival is the Japanese tradition where the Buddhists in Japan worship their ancestors and at the same time, pray for them in the afterlife so that the deceased don’t suffer.
“We advise Muslims to not participate or attend such programmes that are against their faith. We have to love our religion,” said Idris.
Meanwhile, the Shah Alam councillor Muhammad Shakir Amir denied that the festival has any religious ties. Instead, he claims that PAS has shown its ignorance and lack of understanding on cultural diversity in Malaysia.
Naturally, the minister’s ‘advice’ did not go well with netizens and many defended the festival, saying that it is a good opportunity for them to bring their family to rest and relax on the weekend.
Bon Odori has been around for many years now and the festival simply means the “Bon dance”, which is performed during Obon, the season observed by Japanese to honour the spirits of their ancestors.
Even though the origin of Bon Odori is religion, the Japanese don’t actually do it as a religious event. No one in Japan even knows its origin. Don't listen to the ignorant person's idiots.#Malaysia #bonodori #japan— RYO KATAOKA Japan🇯🇵/Malaysia🇲🇾 片岡亮 (@GENRON_NEKORON) June 7, 2022
However, the modern Japanese Bon Odori has lost its religious influence. Usually, Bon Odori is celebrated with a festival (matsuri) and is widely celebrated by most Japanese people simply as a fun event to attend.
Nonetheless, the festival is also supported by the Selangor State Government but following Idris’s statement, the state government has on 7 June said that they will refer to the Japanese Embassy and researchers in this field to get more information about the festival.
Selangor’s Menteri Besar also stated that he has yet to receive any feedback about the upcoming Festival and that he considers Bon Odori as a cultural festival.
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