Japan Society of Fairfield County
Bon Odori and Tanabata, July 7, 2007

Taiko Masala July 7, 2007 was a good day for weather for our fourteenth annual Bon Odori  on Jesup Green in Westport, Connecticut.   In 2005 we  also enjoyed a beautiful  day on Jesup Green, but in 2006 the event was rained out.

Sakura Taiko The big drums of Hiro Kurashima's Taiko Masala began our celebration which was joined by an audience of about 100.  Sakura Taiko of White Plains, Hiro's children's taiko group, then treated us to a great taiko presentation.

For the first time JSFC members led the Obon dances,  after tutoring by Kyoko Ohnishi.  Traditional folk song and dance still exist in modern Japan, in the form of the Obon Dance. The Obon Festival grew out of the  Buddhist celebration to honor the souls of the departed and first appeared in Japan during the 6th century.  During this festival, the souls of the dead are said to return to their ancestral homes for a reunion with their family.  In Japan it is customary to return to one’s hometown to see parents, grandparents, relatives, and old school friends for the Obon. It is also a good opportunity to get much needed rest from the pressures of city life. The Obon dance was originally performed in the graveyards, but now is performed in large open spaces, in shopping centers, in parks, and on temple grounds. The dances are usually performed in a circle.  Traditionally, the men and women wear yukata, a light cotton summer kimono. Today in Japan many people dance in their usual western clothing.  There is a strong sense of community solidarity during the Obon dances.  Onlookers are encouraged to join in rather than just watching.  The words for one Obon dance from the island of Shikoku go:
“You are a fool if you watch this dance.”
“You are a fool if you watch this dance.”
“Such being the case, it is a loss not to dance.”
Bon dances are often based on village life.  The first dance was named Tanko Bushi and was about a  coal miner.  Although coal mining is probably not on anyone’s list of Japanese cultural activities, it has become a popular bon dance.  A description of the dance motions are:
First he shovels the coal.
Then he hefts a sack of coal on his shoulders.
Backs up, wiping sweat from his forehead.
Pushes a cart of coal.
And finally opens the door to dump the coal into storage
The second dance was called Chowa Ohndo, which means “Harmony Dance”.  The motions of this dance are more abstract than in the coal miner’s dance.
Bon Dance
Since our date for Bon Odori was July 7, we added a Star Festival or Tanabata. 
The legend behind the Star Festival was probably imported into Japan from China in the Heian Period over a thousand years ago.  The story involves the stars we know as Vega and Altair which fall on opposite edges of the Milky Way.  In Japan, the star Vega is often called Orihime Boshi, which translates as the Weaving Princess Star; and Altair is often called Kengyuu Boshi or Hiko Boshi which translates as the Puller of Cows Star.  Tentei, the emperor, is at the center of the sky and is the North star or Polaris. One day,  Orihime, the emperor's daughter, was sitting beside the river of heaven, the Milky Way, weaving beautiful clothes for the emperor. She was sad because she was so busy weaving, she didn't have any time left for a lover. Her father felt sorry for her and arranged a marriage with Kengyuu, who lived across the river, the Milky Way, or Ama no Gawa in Japanese.  Orihime and Kengyuu's marriage was wonderful, but bad for the weaving business. Tentei became angry, because  Orihime neglected her weaving. Tentei decided to separate the couple, so he placed them back in their original places, separated by the Milky Way. On only one night of the year would he allow them to meet, the 7th day of the 7th month. Every year on that day by the lunar calendar, the moon comes as a boatman to ferry Orihime over to her beloved Kengyuu. But if Orihime's weaving is not to the highest standards, Tentei may make it rain so the boatman cannot come.
Ancient Japanese celebrated the festival of Tanabata on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month.  At this time Vega and Altair are prominent in the evening sky and the moon is a waxing crescent in the Milky Way. This year these conditions will occur on September 18.
Tanabata may be translated as "weaving with the loom placed on the shelf". The festival celebrates improvement of technical skill and ability. In modern celebrations of Tanabata, people throughout Japan write wishes on colorful strips of paper. On the evening of Tanabata, they tie these paper wishes to freshly cut bamboo. Wishes may be for increased skills in work or school but may also be for anything that reflects a person's dreams and hopes for the future. Decorated Bamboo In our celebration of Tanabata we decorated three stalks of bamboo with origami and wishes.

We closed our performances on Jesup Green with another set by Taiko Masala and Sakura Masala.  The Audience then had an opportunity to come up and try the drums out.  Our leadership then enjoyed dinner across the street at Matsu Sushi Japanese Restaurant.
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Bon Odori