Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 20
The last danceThe Obon Festival offers Japanese cultural immersion, but it may soon be gone
BY SHELLY CONE
A day trip to Japan? It’s literally not feasible, of course, but you can immerse yourself in Japanese culture for a day at the Obon Festival in Santa Maria. Bon Odori refers to the dance that honors people who have passed away in the last year. It’s most often referred to simply as Obon.
The Obon Festival is billed as Santa Barbara County’s only Japanese festival. The Guadalupe Buddhist Church, which celebrated its centennial in 2009, has organized this Santa Maria tradition since pre-World War II days. The festival offers the community a chance to learn, experience, and even participate in an event that’s an important part of Japanese culture.
Filled with colorful traditions and beautiful ritual, the event is a feast for the eyes—and stomach.
The entertainment begins at noon with a bonsai demonstration and taiko drumming. Enjoy a variety of cultural foods, such as udon, sushi, a teriyaki chicken dinner, kushiyaki, and wontons, before grabbing a bit of strawberry shortcake for dessert.
The real center of the event is the obon dance. Dancers adorned in lightweight and colorful summer kimonos called yukata form a circle and perform a variety of traditional Japanese dances, many of which include the use of fans and towels as props. As the dancers move along the circle, the public is invited to join in and follow the simple steps.
In addition to the dance and demonstrations, organizers have included a lot more child-friendly activities this year. Kids can get involved in a children’s fun zone and a craft section, where they can decorate their own fans and towels, just like the traditional props used in some of the dances.
In previous years, the event was held at the Guadalupe Buddhist Church, the National Armory Guard building, and the Santa Maria Fairpark; it’s now held at the Veteran’s Memorial Building.
This is one day trip that will truly only be available for one day. Organizers expect the 2012 event to be the last Obon Festival for the Guadalupe Buddhist Church.
Obon coordinator Alice Utsunomiya said the festival’s end comes for several reasons: There’s so much preparation that goes into Obon, and the congregation, as a whole, is getting much older. At the same time, there’s a lack of volunteers who would make it possible to turn event organization to the younger generation.
Organizers feared last year’s event would be the last Obon Festival, but they were able to pull together enough volunteers to make it work one last time.
Utsunomiya said that though she’s retiring her post as coordinator, she’d be willing to help out if someone stepped up to take over—but as of yet, that hasn’t happened.
Experience Japan in a day, while you still can, and get to the Obon Festival for a whirlwind tour of the sights, sounds, and eats of the faraway culture.
Arts Editor Shelly Cone is up for a cultural day trip any time. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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