After 3 years, the most visited Japanese festival in Cebu, Bon Odori, returns in 2023 to the delight of both Filipinos and Japanese festival goers alike. The event was held on the wide open space of Puregold Lot near Bai Hotel, Parkmall, and Mandani Bay. Gates were opened at 12 noon. If you were not able to attend, let me tell you a glimpse of what usually happens so that you will be excited to attend next year.
As you enter the venue, You will meet various food stalls, merchandises, and services from different Filipino and Japanese companies. On the right side is where majority of the food stalls are located. You will see a plethora of Japanese and Filipino food and beverages. Among the well-known Japanese food you can find are takoyaki, gyudon, tonkatsu, and onigiri. Of course, well-known Filipino food can also be bought such as sisig, Filipino barbecue, humba, and beef tapa.
If you have stayed around Cebu for a long time, you will notice familiar food brands and restaurants such as Nonki Japanese Restaurant and Philippine Brand makers of famous dried mangoes in Cebu.
If you are thirsty, a wide selection of beverages can be bought in the venue aside from the usual bottled water and soda. On the 2023 event, Tubo, a familiar stall that sells sugarcane drinks used to be found in malls, made a reappearance and said they will start opening more branches in the future. If you visited Sugbo Mercado, you will see the familiar drinks on a pouch with different flavors. Japanese and Filipinos share a love for drinking alcohol so, of course, alcoholic drinks will never be left out. You will need to acquire an alcohol pass first before buying them to prevent stores from selling to minors.
Your sweet tooth won’t be left out, as sweet desserts from Japan and the Philippines can easily be bought such as kakigori or if you want just light meals that you can carry around then Japanese bread are ready on the go.
If you are craving for other types of food from other countries, no worries. There are stalls selling non-Filipino and non-Japanese food nearby such as pizza, fried chicken, and crepes.
On the left side of the entrance is where most of the merchandise and services businesses are situated. Majority are anime-related. You will find anime clothes for cosplay, anime pillowcases for lonely nights, keychains, figures, plushies, and so many more.
Aside from the anime merchandises, you will find some Japanese souvenirs you can take home such as kokeshi dolls and a gacha gacha machine for you to get a toy.
Services related to traveling Japan are commonly available such as Attic Tours Philippines Inc.’s free Visa to Japan. Some companies will offer exclusive event only discounts such as Kizuna Aesthetic Center.
As you roam around, Bon Odori festival goers will put on their cosplay or wear a yukata or kimono to engage in the Japanese festive vibe.
The stage hosted performances both from Filipinos and Japanese of different talents either through a contest or paid talents for the event. The regular contests that you will see are singing contests, cosplay contests, an eating contest (contest varies depending on the sponsor), and a beauty contest.
Their are always special guests talents coming from Japan in this event. Familiar faces such as Enka singer Ayumi Ozora and Taiko group Gocoo never fail to perform their respective talents. For 2023, Philippine famous Japanese Youtuber Fumiya performed in front of the excited crowd. Shogo of the punk rock band 175R gave a great performance.
When night comes and Bon Odori comes to a close, it is traditional to dance the Obon dance around a built platform. To have an impactful ending, fireworks display dazzle the night sky for everyone to go home happy.
Following its regular phasing of activities and stalls, Bon Odori 2023 definitely was successful in bringing the old spirit of good Japanese and Filipino relationship on its return.
Bon Odori first started in 2014 by Japanese volunteers living in Cebu and had 11,000 participants. Japanese Association Cebu took over the handling of the event and became successful year-after-year with 2017 recording the most visitors at 33,000 participants. It was briefly called Sakura Festival in 2019 and was held inside SM Seaside, different from the outdoor large venue of the previous festivals. JAC planned a Bon Odori X Sakura Festival in 2020 but was cancelled due to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic in the country.