Home Community Ninety-First Seattle Bon Odori

Ninety-First Seattle Bon Odori

Ninety-First Seattle Bon Odori

Photos and Text by David Yamaguchi
The North American Post

Drummer Emily Ko Flutists Ngoc Dinh left Kayla Butler and Alina Butler

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.

dancers Beverly Glasser Jennie and Dennis Terpstra above Hot Sunday spectators below

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.

dancers Darlene Suyematsu foreground Connie Toda and Rev Katsuya Kusunoki background
Choir sings Fukushima Ondo to flute accompaniment Haa you fue ya taikoni Tsui sa­­so­­wa­rete you

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).

Two Story Zori belts out reggae in the beer garden behind the temple

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

Freestyle dance time an opportunity for everyone to get their groove on Marisa faces camera in yukata
Shinran Shonin 1173 1262 founder of Jodo Shinshu Pure Land Buddhism watches the festival from Wisteria Park opposite the temple The Seattle Betsuin follows Jodo Shinshu
Bon-Odori                                                                             “I become aware of a strange remote sound from without … a measured clapping of hands. But this clapping is very soft and at long intervals. And at still longer intervals there comes to us a heavy muffled booming, the tap of a great drum, a temple drum.
“Oh! we must go to see it,” cries Akira; “it is the Bon-odori, the Dance of the Festival of the Dead. …
The sonorous echoing of geta, the koro-koro of wooden sandals, fills all the street, for many are going. …
I perceive, that we are in the court of an ancient Buddhist temple. …
“Out of the shadow of the temple a processional line of dancers files into the moonlight … all young women or girls, clad in their choicest attire. … And, at another tap of the drum, there begins a performance impossible to picture in words. …
“All together glide the right foot forward one pace… and extend both hands to the right, with a strange floating motion. … Then the right foot is drawn back. …
“And so slowly… the processional movement changes into a great round, circling about the moonlit court. …
“And always, the white hands sinuously wave together, as if weaving spells… now with palms upward, now with palms downward. …
“And there comes to me the thought that I am looking at something immemorially old. …”
— Lafcadio Hearn, “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan” (1894).