Gifu: 7 Tips About the Gujo Odori Festival You Need To Know - Vikingess Voyages

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Gifu: 7 Tips About the Gujo Odori Festival You Need To Know

Non-stop dancing until dawn. This is the Gujo Odori.
Photo: Anette

Bon-Odori (A dance taking place during the Japanese Obon period) is a typical sight during summer in Japan, concentrating on mid-August. You can find these dances being held throughout the country, both in the bigger cities (here from Bon-Odori in Ebisu) and out on the countryside. Amongst them is the Gujo Odori taking place at Gujo Hachiman (郡上八幡) in Gifu Prefecture, known as one of Japan's three most important Obon Odoris. Every night tens of thousands of people come together to dance to the songs of ancient times, with the sound of their geta shoes clashing against the pavement and tunes of shamisen filling the air. As you get closer to dawn the sounds around you intensify, and it is as if you can feel the spirits of an age long gone. This is a Japanese Obon festival you wouldn't want to miss out on.

Gifu: 7 Tips About the Gujo Odori Festival You Need To Know

1. Your chance to experience Japan's Longest Obon Odori 

The Gujo Odori started out as a four-day event back in the Edo period more than 420 years ago but the number of days has been extended along with the festival's popularity, and with a total of 32 nights of dancing, it has grown into Japan's longest Obon Odori! This annual dance takes place in the period between July 9th and September 3rd, so even if you can't make it for the most popular days during Obon you'll still be able to experience the extraordinary festival spirit if you visit during these two months. The dance is not held on every day during the festival period though, so make sure to check their schedule in advance.

2. You can dance the night away - with no less than 4 all-nighters

While the festival is held on 32 days in total the climax hits on the nights of Obon (the Japanese family reunion holiday) on August 13, 14, 15 & 16. During these four days, the festival goes on all the way from dusk until dawn, so-called Tetsuya Odori (徹夜踊り). And staying up all night really is worth it, with the dances intensifying as the clock draws close to dawn. It was magical to witness the sun rise up above the tranced crowd of dancers as they howled to the song of the cat - Neko no Ko (猫の子) - just the thought of which gives me goosebums. 
Above: Dawn is drawing near, but the dancers are not tired
And for those who cannot make it for the four days of Obon; The rest of the period of the festival the dance takes place from 8 pm - 10 pm (11pm on Saturdays)

3. Participation is free for anyone! 

The festival was initiated in the Edo period, and already back then it was allowed for visitors to take part and dance alongside the locals. In fact, the federal lord who initiated this tradition wanted to create a massive street party open for anyone. Most Japanese festivals restrict participation to locals only, so this is a rare chance for those who'd like to play a participating role in a Japanese festival. And while many local festivals are aging along with their population this festival draws a large crowd of young people, often with repeaters who come back year after year for the fun. Some even travel in groups and coordinate their costumes for the occasion! 

4. One night, ten dances - that you can practice in advance

The Gujo Odori has a total of ten different dances that get repeated throughout the night, and all of the ten dances have been distinguished as Japanese cultural assets. The steps of the dances are basic and follow simple hand- and foot movements. It is possible to remember the dances as you go, but you'll have a lot more fun if you practice some of the dances beforehand. The most popular ones are Kawasaki (かわさき) and my personal favorite called the "spring horse", Harukoma (春駒). I've included videos of them below:



5. No need to worry about a dress code! 

There is no dress code at the Gujo Odori, so you are welcome to wear whatever you feel comfortable with. But with that said, if you want the "authentic" festival spirit my recommendation would be to wear a yukata (a light summer version of the kimono) and wooden geta shoes. Most ryokans (traditional Japanese hotels) have simple yukatas available for staying guests, and you can also rent yukatas in stores specializing in kimonos. But no matter what you choose to wear, the point is to have fun!

Above: Posing for a photo with my crew on a day I chose to drop the yukata
Above: Still, yukata is the best thing to wear for the occasion!

6. A different stage every night 

The place that the odori takes place changes every night throughout the festival, and follows a historical pattern around town concentrated on the local shrines. Friends who participated during the four Obon days last year noted that it was conducted on a different spot back then. Still, it is not hard to get around in the small town and everything is within walking distance. My recommendation would be to reserve a hotel/ryokan in the town center so that you'll have easy access to it all. And a piece of top insider information: There are also smaller and more secluded odori taking place outside of town in the surrounding villages on certain days during the festival period, but these are difficult to get to unless you know exactly when and where they are held.
Above: The dance in Gujo taking place around a festival floater

Above: Two girls in yukata in front of the floater
Above: One evening we participated in a Haiden Odori (拝殿踊り), a dance taking place in a shrine hall in a small village outside of the town.

7. Watch out for limited accommodation during Obon

The biggest challenge with participating in the festival is the limitation on accommodation downtown. If you are serious about visiting Gujo Hachiman during the four-day Obon period of all-night dancing you'll have to reserve your hotel half a year in advance, and due to a large number of repeaters, you'd better call immediately after the hotels put their rooms up for sale to secure a room. Then again, the festival is so popular that every night of the four-day period more than 30,000 people are drawn to the tiny town from near and far - if you prefer smaller crowds and don't mind missing out on the allnighter you might thus want to visit towards the end of the festival period in late August.

Above: Dawn is drawing near at Gujo Hachiman

What do you think? I definitely enjoyed taking part in this historical festival, and I feel the charming town of Gujo Hachiman deserves another visit... Might perhaps become a repeater myself.

Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

 ◆Basic Info

  • Gujo Odori (郡上踊り) at Gujo Hachiman (郡上八幡)
    Time Frame:
    July 9th - September 3rd
    (Schedule can be found here)

    • The festival is conducted in Gujo-Hachiman, and you can get there by train to the Gujo-Hachiman Station on the Etsumi-Nan Line

Related blog posts

This page contains affiliate links, and if you follow a link and make a hotel reservation through these links you help support this blog without any additional cost to you. Thank you so much for your kind support!

Author Image

About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

  • 0Disqus Comment
  • Facebook Comment

Leave your comment

Post a Comment

comments powered by Disqus

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
・Read more →

Recent Posts


Random Posts