Students from Africa took part in Japan's traditional summer Bon Odori dance on Tuesday, a day before a development conference near Tokyo on the vast continent.
The event, Bon for Africa, saw the participation of hundreds of people, who danced in a circle around a symbolic elevated stage, set up in the middle of the Zou-no-Hana Park in Yokohama.
They waved their arms in the air and moved their hips in sync to songs, including "Kawano Nagare No Yo Ni" (Like the Flow of the River) by the late Hibari Misora, a Japanese "enka" ballad icon who died in 1989.
"Put your hands up and hold your hands together," said DJ Koo, leader of the pop band TRF, while playing the well-known song that had been remixed with an up-tempo rhythm and featured the sounds of African ethnic instruments.
The festival was organized by a Japanese government agency on the eve of the seventh round of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which will run through Friday, bringing together representatives from more than 50 African countries and international organizations.
"I enjoyed the dance. I think this will help unite us and (help us) understand each other's culture," said Chifundo Gadi, a trainee from Malawi who is studying in Japan.
"It was the first time I saw that Japanese people were open. They did the kimono for me and I like this," said Nompumelelo Maesela, also a trainee in Japan from South Africa, referring to her yukata, a Japanese garment similar in style to kimono but more casual and often worn during summer festivals.
Bon dance events are held every midsummer across Japanese communities for consoling ancestors' spirits. Folk songs were traditionally used in the festivals, but they gradually changed over time to Japanese enka and popular songs with the spread of records and CDs.
The night dance event in the port city was held as part of efforts to raise the profile of the three-day conference and promote the concept of "Cool Africa," highlighting the richness of the continent's culture, a Japan International Cooperation Agency official said.
The idea of Bon for Africa emerged last year after traditional Japanese dancer Ukon Takafuji discussed ways to spread the "cool side" of Africa with JICA officials.
"I want this event to be a bridge between Japan and Africa. I didn't know about the real Africa myself before I participated in this project but its culture...is amazing," Takafuji said.
A live performance by Oswald Kouame, a musician born in Ivory Coast, as well as fashion and talk shows were also held at the festival.
A music video, "Bon for Africa," was released on YouTube in early August featuring the traditional dance and "Like the Flow of the River," already attracting more than 550,000 views.