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Born in Stockholm (Sweden), now live in Sapporo (Japan). Hold a Ph.D. in computer science and work with computers during the days, perform magic in a bar during the nights (and weekends, for kids). Also used to teach historical fencing back in Sweden.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hokkai Bon-Odori costume competition

Every August there is one week of Bon-Odori (O-Bon holiday dancing) in the Odori Koen park in Sapporo, ending on August 20. The last day always sees a costume competition. Having a costume competition on the last day of the Bon-Odori  is apparently a Hokkaido only tradition, it is not done in the rest of Japan but done in many places in Hokkaido.
A kid I thought had a great costume
O-Bon is the holiday when the dead come back to visit their living relatives, so I figured it would be appropriate to dress up like a Japanese ghost. There were 72 teams participating in the competition, totaling 182 participants. There were three categories: kids, single participant, and groups. I participated in the single participant section.

A man dressed as Bon-Odori
At 17:30 you registered and got white pieces of cloth with numbers that you had to stick to your chest and your back. I managed to find someone else who looked like they were also participating in the costume competition and asked them to pin my number to my back, which they kindly did. The actual competition was to start at 19:00, so you could join the kids Bon-Odori or just wait around, or put on your makeup, if unlike me you had not walked all the way through the city in costume.
Everyone in Japan thinks Moomin are Swedish (they are Finnish)
While waiting around, lots of people came up to me and asked if they could take photos of me or together with me. Even more people took photos without asking. In total, I must have been in several hundred photos... One woman came up in a very nice summer kimono and asked if she could take a photo and then looked at me with a slightly surprised look. I recognized her too. She worked in a shop where I bought a bag and some yukata obis a while back, and she recognized me even through all the blood and makeup. She said that she would go check if there was a "spectators' prize" that she could vote for, and if so she would vote for me, haha. There was no such prize category, though.
Very nice predator costume
Mario and Luigi were very friendly
At 18:45 you had to line up in a different section of the park and wait for your turn (I was participant number 130). One of my friends showed up and helped me pass the time. Two women in line in front of me (no. 127 and 128) were also pretty funny. One of them had her daughter with her, and the daughter thought I was very scary. In the end, she started crying... When it finally was your turn, you danced all alone to very quiet music in a big circle with a huge number of participants. At one end of the circle, 7 or 8 judges sat and looked at you when you danced by.
Freddy Kruger was also good
Doraemon had the best poses and the funniest dance moves, except maybe for the guy dressed as Michael Jackson that I never got a picture of.
After passing the judges, you were sent to another section of the park where the normal Bon-Odori was open to everyone. The last day is always super crowded, but people in the costume competition are expected to dance in the outermost circle, and normal people are expected to go into the inner circles, so people watching get to see the costumes.
My favorite team
I had practiced a ghost-style variation of the Bon-Odori, and some of my friends that were there and saw me said that it was very appropriate. There were also old Japanese women cheering me on that shouted that they thought it was funny that I danced like a ghost, every time I passed the place they were standing.
Me after 90 minutes dancing in a hot kimono a hot summer night
The golden woman got a special prize
After 90 minutes of dancing, which made parts of my water solvent facepaint melt, it was time for the prize ceremony. There was a prize for best kid costume, 4 special prizes, and then a countdown from place 5 to the overall winner. Of these 10 prizes, I did not get even one, haha. Two went to kids (the kid prize and one of the special prizes), two went to individuals (two of the special prizes), and the rest went to teams. 
Sitting around during the prize ceremony
A bunch of On-chan characters and a TV presenter listing the winners
The kids and the people in the individual category were very good, as were some of the teams. There were also many other costumes that were extremely good but that did not get any prizes. I liked the predator and the Japanese "no cameras in the cinema"-character team, that even danced like that character.
Toy, tea, and "Samurider" energy drink
Smart phone toy
After the competition was over, you could get some "participation prize" (consolation prize). You got two small cans or bottles with tea or energy drinks, and you could choose between a huge amount of tissues or a smart phone toy. I took the toy, since I get huge amounts of tissues in my mailbox for free anyway. The smart phone toy was one of the projection mapping boxes in the series that I bought myself a week or so back. This was a different design than the ones I bought, so that was pretty nice.
My new costume competition friends, 127 and 128
After getting my tea and energy drink, I ran into numbers 127 and 128 again. They said that they were surprised that I did not get any prize, but that we should definitely do costume competitions together some other time. Apparently the city of Mikasa has a grand prize of 500,000 yen in their Bon-Odori costume competition. That probably means there are many very good costumes so going there just to watch them would be interesting. My new-found costume friends said that we should meet again, but since neither them nor I would recognize each other again when out of costume, this may be difficult. They asked me for my business cards, so I gave them some that have my e-mail address, though. 
Beer given to me by unknown woman in the street
I was sweating like crazy and my legs were tired, so I sat down and check my e-mails for awhile. A drunk Japanese woman that had talked to me before the competition came up and asked if I had won. I said I only got the consolation prize, and she was upset. She thought I had the best costume. She asked me: "Do you drink beer at home?" I said that I usually do not. She said that she had lots of beer cans with her and that she would give me some beer as a prize, since I had the number one costume according to her.

Some photos I got of some of the winners:
The team that took  the first place
A 10 year old girl dressed as Funasshi got a special prize
The small Japanese person in a huge costume got a special prize
Special prize winners
A team that got fourth place (?)
Team leader of the team that got third (?) place
Team that got second place

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