For the 2016 Strawberry Festival, Leah Mann, along with Friends of Mukai, the Vashon Chamber of Commerce, Vashon Center for the Arts, Chautauqua Elementary School, Vashon-Maury Land Trust, and 4culture, organized a Bon Odori dance at the 2016 Strawberry Festival to honor Vashon’s Japanese-American past and to remember the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. To open the dance, she asked me to write and recite a poem, which I’m including below, along with some pictures.
You can read more about the event on the Vashon Beachcomber: http://www.vashonbeachcomber.com/news/386594011.html.
I’ll have to admit it is both wonderful and a bit strange to see a Bon Odori dance at the four-way stop here on Vashon. Growing up, I only really participated in O Bon, as we called it, on Maui, where my mother was born and raised, and where my mother’s family moved from Okinawa, now part of Japan. My memories of O Bon are of going with my Grandma and Grandpa, and my aunties and uncles, and my cousins and cousins and cousins and cousins, to a cemetery on the ocean just past the town of Paia, where my Great-Grandfather once had a barber shop. We’d go to the family tomb—the haka—hang paper lanterns, and honor our ancestors with incense, water, tea, food, and prayers. Then we’d dance in the Bon dance as the sun set into the sea.
I’ve brought a fan with me that my auntie used to use in dancing, in memory of those dances, and in honor of the continuing practice.
All of this could feel far away from Seattle, where I spent most of my childhood—with the exception of a few times and places. Like the days when our mother took us to Uwajimaya—the old one, with the blue tile roof—and I’d rush up to the gift shop to the explore the aisle with the origami paper, marveling at all the colors and kinds they carried.
In honor of that memory, I also brought a single crane, the first origami figure I learned to fold. It later became a poignant reminder for me of Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the story of a young girl who catches leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima and decides to attempt folding a thousand paper cranes, believed to help a person to heal. Her plight and determination moved me as a child, and still do.
So these are the memories that were awakened in me as I composed this poem for our own Bon Odori here on Vashon. It’s called “Welcome to the Dance” and takes its form from the syllabic pattern of the Japanese waka, “short poem”: a 5-syllable line, followed by a 7-syllable line, followed by another 5-syllable line and two 7-syllable lines.
Click on the following link to read the poem:
You can find more photos of the dance and the festival here: