On a pleasant July afternoon, the Tacoma Buddhist Temple held their annual Bon Odori Japanese Folk Dance festival.
People from throughout the area came to celebrate listening to the taiko drums and watching the dancers in their beautiful kimonos and cotton yukatas. Everyone is welcome to join in the dance – the Temple even holds dance lessons prior to the festival.
The Bon Odori festival, also known as O Bon, is derived from the Buddhist Ullambana Festival, which is a time to welcome the return of one’s ancestors. There is an emphasis on loved ones lost the previous year, and all ancestors are honored through offerings and celebrations, as well as celebrating our own present lives.
In front of the temple, Fawcett street was closed for the event and strung with colorful hanging lanterns. Delicious food was offered at various booths, and people could visit inside the temple to learn more about Buddhism, or visit the serene temple garden.
Central to the celebration are the folk dances (Bon Odori) performed to music that includes the steady beat of a taiko. The taiko sits on a raised platform, or a yagura, and musicians use bachi, or drumsticks, on the taiko, to keep time for the Bon Odori dancers. The guiding purpose of Bon Odori is to set aside the ego through unselfconscious dancing.
Participation is customarily diverse with young and old, formally trained and informally trained dancers, Japanese Americans and non-Japanese Americans. This year dozens of people danced to and enjoyed the drumming sounds of Fuji Taiko of Tacoma and Matsuri Taiko of Seattle.
This was my first year attending the festival, and I was fortunate enough to go with Tammy Boros. When I asked Tammy what she enjoyed about the festival she said, “I liked the Bon Odori festival because it gives me a way to feel connected to my culture and my community. It is a wonderful reminder of the beautiful artistry and traditions of the Japanese culture.”
If you have not attended a Bon Odori festival, I encourage you to do so next year and celebrate along with our Buddhist friends and neighbors. I know I will return.