GEORGE TOWN: The charms of Japan returned to Penang with the Bon Odori Festival 2022 at the Esplanade.

The first to be held since the pandemic, it attracted a crowd of several thousand with an array of family-oriented cultural activities spread across some 100 booths here yesterday.

These offered everything from games and food to souvenirs, photo backdrops and even yukata rentals, while the main stage hosted music and dance performances.

Many were spotted in colourful summer kimonos, including a group of biological science students from a university on the island.

The students were from different states across the country but share a common love for anime and decided to check out the Bon Odori for the first time.

“We wanted to experience the atmosphere,” shared Simone Yee, 22, of Kuala Lumpur, in between snapping selfies at the main arch adorned with cherry blossoms, lanterns and giant koi.

Go Ming Hui, also 22, from Melaka, quipped: “We actually have finals on Monday. But we work hard and play hard!”

Also taking part Bon Odori for the first time was head nurse Noor Aini Zulkifli, 41, who had her husband and three children in tow.

“It’s a good opportunity to experience the culture of a different country. We’ve never been to Japan so it’s nice to get a taste of it right here in Penang,” she added.

Japanese Ambassador to Malaysia Katsuhiko Takahashi expressed delight that the popular event could be held again as this year marked the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries and also the 40th anniversary of Malaysia’s Look East Policy.

“The Bon Odori is testament to the cordial bilateral ties we share. It’s also an opportunity for our peoples to bond and strengthen relationships year after year,” Takahashi said in his speech.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said such events help build bridges for mutual understanding, which is important in this era of globalisation.

Also present were Penang Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak, consul-general of Japan in Penang Hiroyuki Orikasa and state tourism and creative economy committee chairman Yeoh Soon Hin.

The event ended with lucky draws and a grand fireworks display.

On July 16, the festival returned in Selangor after a two-year hiatus to an estimated 35,000-strong turnout at Shah Alam Sports Complex.

The multiracial crowd thronged the event despite the call by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Idris Ahmad to Muslims to stay away, as he said Bon Odori had “elements of other religions”.

This led to Selangor Ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah ordering the state Islamic Religious Department (JAIS) not to prevent any individual from attending the “cultural event”.