Ninety-First Seattle Bon Odori
Photos and Text by David Yamaguchi
The North American Post
Across late July, Bon-Odori returned to the Seattle, Tacoma, and White River Buddhist temples after a three-year hiatus. In Seattle on July 15-16, the attendance was sparser than in years past. This is all right, however, as the scene is normally too crowded.
From a Shin-Issei perspective, the Seattle Obon festival differs from those in Japan in that it features dances from various parts of Japan, instead of solely regional dances (“Shin-Issei Journey,” July 14).
As an example, Yuka Matsudaira wrote in to ask how the dance, “Gosho Ondo” got here. She believes that someone must have brought it from Shiga-Ken, probably in part by bringing a 78-record of it. But who and when? Like many things in the Seattle Japanese American community, the specific backstories of individual Seattle Obon dances are probably lost to time.
Regardless, the main thing is that the long-slumbering ancestors returning to visit their Puget Sound villages could see that the people are still here and doing all right post-pandemic.
Today, we share a deeper understanding of the mostly rural villages of the Issei that persisted through pandemics, famines, and earthquakes/tsunami without benefit of antibiotics and building codes. Examples include the Tempo famine (1833 – 1837), which led to an uprising in Osaka that had to be put down by government troops, and the 1896 Meiji Sanriku earthquake and tsunami, northeast Honshu.
Also of interest is how far back in time Bon Odori existed. Evidence of it first appears in Japanese written records in the late 15th century. It was widespread by the Edo Period (1603 – 1867).
Proofreader’s note: “I haven’t been to Obon since the days of junior high, when you had to walk around and around, just to see who else was there.
I probably told you this last year but many years ago, I told a co-worker from Japan about our JA Obon so he took his family.
His reaction was something like, “It’s like big party! More fun than in Japan! And food!”
I like the idea that the dances are from different regions of Japan. It shows the “diversity” of our Japanese community. — GS