The month of August is synonymous with the Obon (お盆) celebration in Japan. Several events were held in Malaysia yearly to honour this occasion. The Sarawak Bon Fest has become the pioneer for such event in the Malaysian Borneo area. Introduced for the first time a year ago, the Sarawak Bon Fest has gained popularity this year when it was held yet again in Miri, Sarawak.The venue was bigger, the crowd amassed about 800 visitors and more activities were carried out in the two-day event on 17 and 18 August 2019 at Coco Cabana.
The brainchild of a local Japanese language teacher in SM Sains Miri, Ms. Fiona Toh, the Sarawak Bon Fest originally targeted towards students to further encourage them in learning the Japanese language and culture. Seeing the public growing interest in the event, the Sarawak Bon Fest 2019 opened its door to walk-in visitors with a small amount of fees to participate in the array of activities.
Joining the organizer in making the event a success were Nihongo Partners (NP) who are stationed in secondary schools in Malaysia as teacher’s assistants. Ten of them hailed from Peninsular Malaysia and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah while one NP stationed in Brunei came to facilitate 13 Japanese culture workshops offered to participants. Some of the most notable workshops manned by the NPs included tea ceremony, Wagashi (Japanese Dessert), Udon making, Ninja and Karate.
The Japan Foundation, Kuala Lumpur (JFKL) who was one of the supporters of this event also came down to promote the “Tadoku” workshop where method to Japanese learning is introduced through reading. The participants of the Tadoku workshop eagerly read the books in Japanese as they were guided by a few teachers from JFKL. Another team from JFKL also set up a booth to promote the online learning website, “Minato”.
To commemorate the Obon celebration, the Bon Odori was showcased at the night of the 17th by students who demonstrated the steps on a makeshift yagura (stage) while the participants followed around it. Some of the songs the participants danced to were the famous Tokyo Ondo as well as the very energetic bon odori-themed Doraemon song!
The second day of the Sarawak Bon Fest 2019 witnessed many contestants competed in Bento making contest, lantern crafting, storytelling contest and others. There was also a Japanese quiz competition between schools which brought out the competitive streak amongst students in order to get the highest scores.
Despite starting as a small event, the Sarawak Bon Fest has garnered popularity among visitors in East Malaysia, especially in Miri, Sarawak. Aside from being an incentive for the students to brush up their Japanese language and culture, this event is becoming the main platform for the local public to discover more about Japan without having to travel to the country itself. With the growing attraction towards this event, the Sarawak Bon Fest 2020 is foreseen in the future.