chapter  5
19 Pages

Bon

The night before, we had gone to the' Lake of the Wild Iris', a vast amusement park near Nara, Japan's first permanent capital and the cradle of her culture. To the huge natural amphitheatre in the centre of the park thronged many of the people of the district of Yamato, of which Nara is the prefectural city. Some came to watch, others to dance, for this was the last of a three-day contest to pick the best team of town or village dancers in the district. Although the programme was built round the Bon Dance, it was nevertheless a motley farrago with three main divisions: post-war Japanese dances came first; then, something billed as 'folkdances'-we had gone expecting the gems of this traditionloving district but we found ourselves watching instead something which, from the dancers' steps as well as from the music, might well have been a cross between a square dance and a Gay Gordons! Then, in third place, came a series of local traditional dances, all of which can be traced back in some way to the Bon Dance of Shiga Prefecture, on the shores of Lake Biwa to the north, but which soon felt the influence of their new setting in the villages of Yamato for each locality has its distinctive variations in the matter of the steps of the dance and each has added to the words of the accompanying

song a local introduction and original lyrics detailing its own beauty spots.