News Column

Obon Bazaar honors loved ones through dance

June 30, 2014

By Christina Cornejo, Lodi News-Sentinel, Calif.

June 30--With an expert flick of her wrist, Ann Tanimoto flipped her round fan over and stretched her arm gracefully outward to point the fan to the right and then left.

She took two steps forward and one step back to Japanese folk music, performed by Minyo Tanoshimi Kai dance and music group in Lodi.

Behind her danced other instructors who led a large circle of volunteers in the Obon Odori, a traditional dance performed during the Buddhist Obon Festival in Japan.

The Buddhist Church of Lodi put on their 85th Obon Bazaar over the weekend, bringing extended families back home and visitors to the church to eat delicious Japanese food and become a part of great cultural entertainment.

"Why are you sitting there, you should join," Reverend Katsuya Kunosuke said to the crowd before leading a prayer. "This dance is for our loved ones who have died. We express our appreciation for them and pay our respects.

More than a hundred people lined up with chairs and fans on Stockton Street in front of the church to see a double feature of entertainment Sunday evening, beginning with a performance from Stockton Bukkyo Taiko and ending with the Obon Odori.

Members of the church remember holding the event every year except the three years during the war that they were forced to go to internment camps.

Tanimoto, who was sent to Rohwer, Arkansas those three years, was able to return to Lodi.

"I remember before the war where all those hotels were on Main street. We used to dance over there," Tanimoto said.

She has been teaching classical Japanese dance for 60 years, and teaches children and volunteers the steps for each Obon dance in the weeks before the event.

In the Obon Odori, each of the 14 dances performed comes from a different region or prefecture in Japan and represent the old lifestyle of the people who from those regions. Tanimoto said that in the Tanko Bushi dance, dancers mimic the actions of coal miners in digging for coal and pushing mine carts.

Other dances included other folding fans, pieces of cloth and hachi-hachi, which are castinets usually made of flat pieces of bamboo.

Small children dressed yukata and happi, traditional Japanese clothing worn at festivals, stumbled in and out of the dancing line. One small 3-year old boy wearing a red open happi stopped running around to stare at the taiko drummer in the center of the circle.

It was an event for families to come together, to dance together and to celebrate their heritage.

"I've been coming here every year my whole life -- 46 years. I'm originally from Lodi, but I live in Elk Grove and come back every year," said Steve Satake. "I love it. I'm happy that my kids get to enjoy what I got to as a child."

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at


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Source: Lodi News-Sentinel (CA)

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