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Community Event - Bon Odori

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Obon is a style of Japanese Buddhist folk dance performed outdoors in a circle around a taiko (drum) on a yagura the raised platform decorated with lanterns. Lethbridge community dancers gather for the the Bon Odori festival in Galt Gardens on July 14. This Japanese cultural tradition is a time to remember and honour those who have passed on, appreciate all that they have done and to recognize the continuation of their influence upon our lives. It is Obon Season in Lethbridge from July 1-July 15.

Bon Odori is comes from the words : Odori means dance and Bon is the abbreviated name of a Buddhist sutra from the story of the monk Mogallana. In meditation, he saw his deceased mother suffering. Unable to offer relief and wishing to repay the caring and love she had given him, he went to the Buddha for advice. Mogallana was told to hold a memorial service for his mother while practicing the precept of Dana - offering, giving and sharing. This was the origin of the Obon Service. When Mogallana held this service, it is said that his mother and seven generations of ancestors were freed from their suffering. This caused he and other disciples to dance for joy. This was the origin of the Bon Odori which gradually developed into a major memorial festival. Though a memorial observance, there is a festive mood during Obon.

In the summer of 2003, Reverend Yasuo Izumi observed a small Bon Odori gathering of about 30 or so people just behind the Galt Museum on the edge of the coulee. He recalls people in the neighbouring residences peering at the performance from their windows. Revered Izumi mused to himself “Bon Odori dancers practice a lot! They deserve an audience.” So he set out organize a Bon Odori in Galt Gardens because it is a community event that invites everyone from all cultures to join in the dance. Sensei Izumi explains, “The true meaning of Bon Odori is a joyful gathering. It is joyful because we are able to meet and remember the departed.”

Lorita Ichikawa, Chair of the Bon Odori festival is so pleased that it is an event that includes not only dance, but also activities for children and food prepared and sold by local restaurants. Lorita, says, “Bon Odori is not just for dancers, it’s for everyone. It’s a festive occasion for the community”. In addition to colourful garb of dancers and powerful music, the event includes handing out small cards encouraging those in attendance to simply write the name of some they wish to remember on then keep the card in their pocket. Lorita says, “People come from far away for Bon Odori. It’s a memorial for everyone. We are remembering with gratitude.”

The Bon Odori is a dance of joy, a time to remember and honour all those who have passed on before us. The dance of a region can depict the area's history and specialization. The movements of the dance of the Tank? Bushi (the "coal mining song") show the movements of miners, i.e. digging, cart pushing, lantern hanging. All dancers perform the same dance sequence in unison. It is a time to appreciate all that they have done for us and to recognize the continuation of their influence upon our lives. In 2017 the festival that began without a taiko and only a handful of dancers included 700 in the Revered Izumi says it best, “I like Bon Odori. It’s fun!”
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