by Randy Okimoto
The White River Buddhist Temple celebrates its 48th annual Bon Odori Festival on Saturday, July 22, 2017. Set under the backdrop of Mount Rainier, White River’s Bon Odori has the look and feel of a countryside festival. In fact, however, it is primarily a religious event originating from Obon, the Japanese Buddhist custom to honor one’s departed ancestors. Each year generations of temple members return to White River and join with local dancers in showing respect to their ancestors. The colorful bright lights over the heads of dancers gliding around a flat blacktop surface makes a uniquely serene and spiritual sight.
Historically, White River re-started its Bon Odori Festival in 1970. The war and evacuation had caused a hiatus with all west coast Bon Odoris in 1942. Set among the many farms that populated the Kent-Auburn area at the time, it reflected both a spiritual and harvest festival atmosphere. With the help of equipment and instructors borrowed from neighboring temples, the first White River Bon Odori attracted dozens of dancers and hundreds of spectators. Over the years attendance and participation has gradually increased into the thousands. Spurred in part by its focus on kid-friendly activities, (Children’s Lantern Parade), flat and spacious dancing areas and easy access to parking, White River’s Bon Odori has become a popular Bon Odori Festival to spectators and dancers alike.