Comparison of Japanese Folk Dance Styles

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Japan's Rich History of Dance and Music

Japan is a nation with an exciting and rich history which features dance and music. The country has managed to re-ignite and salvage folk dances and musical incidences against the ever-changing contemporary culture (Japan Culture1).

However, Japan outsmarts several states on the sustenance of traditional culture and music. Some of the styles of the folk dance are still relevant today where the majority of them are unique and contrasts sharply with famous international dances.

The traditional dance styles were established and developed over centuries and, differs slightly on geographical regions within the nation. Some of these conventional dance styles are Bon Odori, Nihon Buyo, Noh Mai and Kabuki. The research work represents a comparison of Bon Odori and Kabuki styles of Japanese folk dances, their respective regional influences, their impact to both Japan and USA as well as their relevance in Japan.

Comparison of Bon Odori and Kabuki Styles


Both Bon Odari and Kabuki folk dances require specific decorations and costumes. For instance, actors in Bon Odori dancers wear summer Kimono dresses and holds decorated lanterns (Japan Culture1; Takiguchi 1). During the mornings within the festive season, town dwellers set up the performer's stage (A Yagura). Also, they decorate the off-base parks with titles of people who contributed to the development of the dance (Takiguchi 1).

Likewise, Kabuki dance involves elaborate costumes, beautiful makeups, peculiar wigs and, highly unique actions from performers (Japan Culture1). The exclusively artificial performances convey a message to the audience, a vital role since it features the conventional Japanese form which is incomprehensible to many modern people (Japan Culture1). Moreover, both styles of Japanese folk dance require a unique stage for performances. For instance, Bon Odori festivals are held at public squares, temples, and shrines (Japan Culture1). On the other hand, Kabuki dance requires dynamic stage sets like trapdoors and revolving platforms to allow quick changing of scene and movement of actors (Takiguchi 1).


The two styles of Japanese folk dance also have sharp contrasts. For illustration, Bon is a customary festive period in honor and entertainment of ancestral souls held at Aug 13-15 according to the solar calendar (Japan Culture1). It is a Japanese belief that the souls of their ancestors visit their families at the festive time, spends some time with them and, eventually return to their world. Contrary, Kabuki dance is a form of entertainment whose basis is on historical events, love stories, moral conflicts, tragedies or warm-hearted dramas (Japan Culture1). In most of the cases, the show comprises of only a section of a story which is usually the best part. For effective enjoyment, audiences have to understand the story before attending the show. Besides, at some theatres, it is possible to acquire some headsets for translation into English (Takiguchi 1).

Regional Influences

Bon Odori dance is subject to both rural and city influences. For instance, those who live in town centers have a chance to facilitate effective performance as every town manages its Odari festival (Takiguchi 1). In the rural settings, the Japanese set up the festival altar for the ancestor's soul entitled Shoryo-dana. The families clean up their tombs in preparation of the Bon. At August 13 every year, families light up Mukaebi (small bonfire) at their homes' gates to guide and welcome their ancestors' souls. More so, the festive period is family-oriented where the children return to their respective rural areas for celebrations. At the end of the festival, usually on August 16, families set up the seeing-off fire (Okuribi) to escort their ancestors (Japan Culture1). Hence, both the rural and city influences impacts on the on Odori dance.

Similarly, the regional influences of Kabuki dance are both the rural and city settings. For instance, the style of Japanese folk dance has its roots from incredible street performances as well as its current advancement in the teahouse playhouses of the infamous red-light districts of progressing cities within the Edo era (Viika 2). Various city areas facilitated the evolution of the dance. A point in case, in the regions of Osaka and Kyoto, the erotic world of the bigger cities offered inspirations for Kabuki (Viika 2). For illustration, available colored block prints depict the lifestyle within cities that features Kabuki star actors and the urban centers' famous prostitutes. However, the city of Tokyo was the epicenter of Kabuki dance in the 19th century but unluckily, bombings and fires within the Second World War destroyed the its theatres. Currently, the National Theatre of Tokyo acts as the prime stage for the folk dance.

In the rural areas, families organize themselves as acting units. An actor's profession in Kabuki is to the great extent hereditary. The practice is passed on from one generation to the other. For instance, the fathers have a unique role of training their son similar to the responsibility of the uncles to their nephews. However, if there is no talented child within a generation, families have permission to adopt a gifted student (Viika 2). The lineage system of the dance at the rural areas forms a complex system of performance stage titles. The unusual stage names are kept aside for specific families until an opportune time during formal ceremonies known as Kojo. For instance, Ichikawa family reserves the stage name, Danjuro, which is the most prestigious title in the entire tradition of Kabuki (Viika 2)

Impact of the Dances both In Japan and the USA

The two folk dances have significantly helped to preserve the traditional culture as well as offering entertainment to both Japan and the USA. Within Japan, Bon Odori is a customary dance which allows the people to reconcile with the conventional way of life. Also, the dance has contributed to tourist attraction where the visitors love to get involved with Bon Odari (Japan Culture1). On the other hand, Kabuki dance has been a vital component of Japanese entertainment. Despite its impact in the customary society, the folk dance has currently retained its popularity. In the USA, the two dances have significantly impacted Japanese-American Culture as well as adding enthusiasm in the entertainment field. For instance, various cities within the US practice the two folk dances. The towns include; Philadelphia, St. Pauli, Oakland, Charlotte, and San Diego (Thornbury 193). The events comprise of Music, martial arts demonstration, lantern-light ceremonies, and food (Thornbury 193).

How Japanese Value the Two Dances

The Japanese firmly engrave the two dances within their society. Despite the changing culture and society, the high worth for the dances has facilitated to their current significance. For instance, Bon Odori folk dance has a religious significance where the people seek to please the spirits of their ancestors. For illustration, the seasonal dance relates to the August Bon festival whose main aim is to commemorate ancestors (Japan Culture1). Conversely, Kabuki dance has a social significance in adding dynamism within the entertainment field. For instance, the dance was traditionally a form of entertainment. Particularly, Kabuki incorporates acting, art, drama, singing, and dancing. Moreover, the folk dance is adjusting to technological advancement in the context of modern entertainment in Japan (Japan Culture1). For example, the Kabuki dance has evolved to incorporate lighting, effects, and advancing technology to remain popular in the entertainment field. According to Japan Culture1, the dance offers entertainment and a realistic experience to the foreign visitors in Japan.


Japan has a rich history of dance and music. Both Bon Odori and Kabuki are two unique styles of Japanese folk dances which have currently retained their significance. The two dances have similar features, for instance, the focus on unique costumes and decorations as well as requiring a particular stage for a performance. Nevertheless, the two folk dances differ from each other in aspects of purpose and duration. For illustration, Bon Odori is a religious festival to commemorate the ancestors while Kabuki dance is a unique form of entertainment. Both dances are subject to both rural and city influences. In the case of Bon Odari, the dance has evolved both in town dwellings and in the villages. Correspondingly, the towns and villages have significantly influenced the Kabuki dance. For example, cities such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo have facilitated the popularity of the dance. In the villages, the actor's profession is hugely hereditary, where older parents such as fathers and uncles coach the young ones. However, the two dances have added enthusiasm to entertainment in both Japanese and American settings as well as preserving the traditional culture.

Works Cited


Japan Culture. "The Many Types of Traditional Music and Dance Celebrated in Japan! – Japan Info." Japan Info, 13 July 2015, Retrieved from :

Takiguchi, T. "Bon Odori: Dance to the Beat of a Traditional Japanese Festival | Stripes Okinawa." Stripes Okinawa | Stars and Stripes, 18 Aug. 2018.

Thornbury, Barbara E. "America's" Kabuki"-Japan, 1952-1960: Image Building, Myth-Making, and Cultural Exchange." Asian Theatre Journal (2008): 193-230.

Viika, S. "Kabuki, Theatre as Spectacle." Asian Tradition Art and Dance, 2018.

October 05, 2023

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