Leave Bon Odori alone!

It is really mind-boggling, to say the least, that the Bon Odori festival that features prominently in Tourism Selangor’s calendar of events has been in the limelight, for the wrong reasons, over the past one week.

From royal intervention, to politicians defying a royal decree, to a religious expert suggesting a name change for the event … These are indeed strange times we are living in.

According to the Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur, the annual Japanese cultural event, which has been held here since 1977, is to promote and strengthen the friendship between Japan and Malaysia. The event offers a chance for locals to experience Japanese art, dance, food, and drinks.

A quick search online will reveal that Bon Odori, which simply means “Bon dance”, is a style of dancing performed during Obon. Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating one’s ancestors.

It is for this very reason that those who are against the festival have labelled it a religious festival, and have advised certain quarters to refrain from participating in it as a way to protect their faith.

I admit I am no expert in religion.

But I commend Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah for calling on Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Idris Ahmad to attend the Bon Odori festival at the Panasonic Sports Complex in Shah Alam next month to “understand the difference between religion and culture”.

In making the call, Sultan Sharafuddin said he did not want the minister to use the Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) to make “confusing and inaccurate statements, which could negatively affect the image and reputation of the department”.

It is a given, that any decision, or statement touching on policy, made by ministers who represent the government of the day, must be based on proper studies, reports and facts, and must be devoid of sentiment, be it religious or otherwise. It should also take into account the views of experts.

For the record, Japan and Malaysia have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 65 years. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Malaysia’s Look East Policy.

One wonders if Idris, and the other Pas politicians, who seem to remain defiant over the royal decree, have ever attended a Bon Odori celebration before.

Also, did Idris rely on proper reports backed by facts before making the call advising people to stay away from the event?

And then you have Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin suggesting a name change for the event to avoid confusion. Perhaps, he ought to be reminded that a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.

One cannot help but wonder if this entire brouhaha is the result of confusion and blatant ignorance of the difference between religion and culture.

As such, it is best to leave Bon Odori alone, for now, until a ‘lawatan sambil belajar‘ is carried our by all parties concerned.

Main image: Former Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim (second from left) join in the fun during the Bon Odori Festival at the Panasonic Sports Complex in July, 2013. Image by The Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur

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