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35,000 M'sians Jovially Celebrate Bon Odori Festival Despite Minister's Advice To Stay Out

Bon Odori's organising committee chairman Dai Hoshiai said the event welcomed 15,000 more attendees than the last time it was held.

Cover image via Free Malaysia Today & Mukhriz Hazim/Malaysiakini

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Thousands of Malaysians attended the Japanese Bon Odori festival at the Shah Alam Sport Complex despite a Cabinet Minister's earlier advisory that asked people to avoid the event

About 35,000 visitors went to the open-air event in their colourful kimonos and yukatas (casual summer kimonos normally worn at summer festivals and to nearby bathhouses) as they danced to traditional music yesterday, 17 July, reported Free Malaysia Today.

Long queues of visitors were seen outside the sport complex before the gates were opened at 4.30pm, and by 7.15pm, the first dance performance began.

Some of the stage performances invited attendees to dance along. Photos published by news portals show many attendees clad in traditional Japanese outfits following the dance moves.

Even little children can be seen in bright yukatas in the jovial atmosphere.

Speaking at the event, Japanese ambassador to Malaysia Takahashi Katsuhiko said Tokyo highly appreciates Malaysia's cultural diversity and tolerance

"The diversity and tolerance have been an engine to promote bilateral relations in all its aspects, including this Bon Odori Festival," he said.

The festival's organising committee chairman, Dai Hoshiai, told reporters that Bon Odori is solely a cultural event, which welcomed 50,000 visitors on Sunday evening, an increase of 15,000 from when it was last held.

He also said that everyone, including Muslims, could join the dance, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The event has been held annually in Malaysia since 1977, with the Japanese embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur being involved as organisers.

The festival made a return on Sunday after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Idris Ahmad advised Muslims in Malaysia not to participate in the festival due to its alleged elements of other religions

The PAS leader cited a study by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) when he made the advisory.

He was asked to make a comment on the issue after a poster of the festival showing a kimono-clad woman wearing a hijab circulated on social media.

Prime Minister's Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Idris Ahmad.

Image via Muhammad Sulaiman/New Straits Times

Idris' comment drew criticism, with Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) councillor Muhammad Shakir Ameer Mohideen taking a jab at him for his lack of understanding and ignorance on cultural diversity.

The controversy came to rest after the Sultan of Selangor, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, told the local religious authorities not to obstruct anyone from attending.

He also told the minister to attend the Bon Odori festival to "understand the difference between religion and culture", reported Sinar Daily.

Read more about the issue surrounding the Bon Odori festival after Idris Ahmad made the controversial statement on 6 June: