Bon Odori Celebrates Dance, Cuisine and Community

by Carolyn Bick

The street in front of Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple was flooded with a riot of color, as the temple hosted its 87th Bon Odori Festival on the skirts of the International District.

This year’s festival took place on July 20 and 21, attendees braving the summer heat to dance and celebrate. Though the Bon Odori Festival is a Mahayana Buddhist celebration, and there is a service inside the temple, the festival itself is about community. Weeks before the event, the community is invited to learn the day’s dances at dance practice nights, so they may take part in the many dances that have dancers stretching down almost the entirety of South Main Street, the main thoroughfare in front of the temple.

But even if they haven’t practiced, attendees are invited to dance and learn from others. Holding a fan in one hand to shield herself from the sun, Yuki Tanaka held Skye Clark-Dorfman’s hand, as he sat in Barbara Clark’s arms, and moved his hand up and down to the rhythm of the music.

“Ha!” she smiled and laughed, as Skye looked down at her hand, puzzled, and back up at her.

Nearby, other attendees stood in the shade, feasting on small bowls of zaru soba, or cold soba noodles in broth, as well as seasoned rice, sweet, shaved ice, and other festival foods served in a cluster of food vendor stalls manned by volunteers.

Judy Matsudaira, her two daughters, and her nephew sat in the comfortable shade of a tree overlooking the day’s festivities. From their perch atop the family-dubbed “Matsudaira Hill,” they could see the colorful festival that filled the street in front of Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple. It’s a tradition for them, she said.

“I started dating my husband back in ’93, but his family — they were born and raised here, so they come every year — even though they are Catholic, and a lot of times, they don’t want them to come here,” Matsudaira said.

One of Matsudaira’s daughters, Haley Matsudaira looked up from her small bowl, where she had been making industrious headway on the remnants of her zaru soba.

“What?” she asked, surprised.

Ba-chan — she didn’t want us to come here, ’cause she’s Catholic,” Matsudaira explained, using a casual, familial term of endearment for ‘grandmother.’

“But they came, anyway, because they snuck out. They only live right over there. Everyone knows,” she continued with a laugh.

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Matilda munches on soba noodles in the shade, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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Festival attendees dance, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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Fans meant for a dance sit in a bin, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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People attend the Bon Odori service, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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Festival attendees wait for the dancing to begin, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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A volunteer makes up soba cups, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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A young volunteer poses for a portrait, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)
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Dancers wait to perform, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple in the International District July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

Featured Image: A drummer leads the dancers, during the Bon Odori Festival at Seattle Betsuin Temple July 20. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

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