Japan Society of Fairfield County
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.
Bon Odori and Tanabata, July 7, 2007
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
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
“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.
Since our date for Bon Odori was July 7, we added a Star Festival
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
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.
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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