Jul 14, 2013

Obon Festival

During World War II, there were many Japanese internment camps in Utah.  Once those camps folded, many of the Japanese people stayed and became farmers, including my great-grandparents.  My grandmother spent her early twenties in an internment camp, where she met and married a young man who later died in combat in Italy in 1945.  Most Japanese people never talked about “camp”, and my grandmother was no different. We tried multiple times to write her story, but she just never talked about it, and when she did, it was never in any detail.

(Esther Oka in “Camp”, 1945)

My great-grandparents raised their children on a farm in the heart of Ogden on 39th street. Apparently, the Oka Farm was well known in the community and my mother was raised just blocks from there.  As a kid, I spent every summer in Ogden working in my grandma’s garden.   Ogden’s historic 25th street was once the Japantown of Ogden, or as close as it could get to being a Japantown.   There were Japanese restaurants, fish markets and bathhouses that lined the streets of 25th.  (Yes, along with the local brothels.)  Can you imagine how different it must have been?

Who knew?  I had no idea that the Japanese culture was once so strong here in Ogden.   I plan on keeping their Japanese tradition alive, and this week I’m taking part in the Obon Festival. What is an Obon Festival?  Well, until recently, even I didn’t know.  The Ogden Buddhist Temple honors their ancestors who have passed before them each year by holding the Obon Festival.   It’s a way for them to resolve unsettled business so they can embrace their loved ones once again.  What better way to honor my ancestors of Ogden and Japan than to participate in the Obon Festival?

Buddhism is not just a religion, but a way of life.  Buddhists believe they are given everything they need in this life, they just need to become aware of their gifts and live a life of gratitude for those gifts.

The Obon Festival is filled with food, dancing, music, and taiko drummers. The dances acknowledge their rich heritage that was molded by their ancestors. 

The dancing is performed by the local Buddhist people of Ogden and Salt Lake.   There are 12-14 dances honoring their dead. The dancers wear Yukatas (summer kimonos), and use different props during the dances, such as: Uchiwa (round fan), Tengui (towel), Sensu (Folding Fan), Kachi-Kachi (wooden hand noise maker).

THE traditional Taiko drummers will be performing (Taiko in Japanese means ‘drum’). If you haven’t heard or seen these guys, you are missing out.  They are immensely powerful and a lot of fun to watch.  I’ve seen them multiple times while growing up and I am mesmerized each time.  When they perform, the goal is to become one with the drum, which is also a way of becoming one with Buddha.  They even make their own drums! I made a goal a couple years ago to become a Taiko drummer. Luckily, they are starting a new group and are looking for recruits! (Hint, Hint)

At the Obon Festival this year, there will be booths filled with food and souvenirs. Come watch the dancing!  Feel the rhythm of the Taiko drummers!  Come, help keep the traditions alive and see the deep Japanese history of Ogden through the Buddhist people!

Where:           Ogden Buddhist Church
                        155 North Street
                        Ogden, Utah
When:            Saturday, July 20, 2013

4:00 Food Booths Open
7:30 Taiko Drums
8:00 Dance Performance
9:00 Intermission Taiko Drums
9:30 Dance Performance (Last dance the audience is asked to participate)

Food Available:
Teriyaki Rice Bowls with Chicken or Beef
Spam Musubi (Block of Rice and Spam wrapped together with dried seaweed)
Somen Noodles (Cold noodles in Fish Stock)
Vegetarian Tofu Salad
Manju (Sweet Rice Cake)
Ramune (Japanese Soda)
Hot Dogs (American Tradition)

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