Visalia dances into Obon season

Yagura dancers demonstrated each dance movement to help the audience participate in Saturday’s Obon Festival. (Photo: Zachary Newcott)

Yagura dancers demonstrated each dance movement to help the audience participate in Saturday’s Obon Festival. (Photo: Zachary Newcott)

Zachary Newcott
June 29, 2015

At the end of each summer day the sun appears to have sucked the life out of everything. The houseplants sit wilted, the outdoor cats remain pathetically collapsed next to their food bowls, and we find ourselves doing the same in front of our televisions.

At the Visalia Buddhist Church, they’re dancing.

Such an activity may elicit groans to those who stepped out for even five minutes in the triple-digit temperatures, but no amount of heat appeared to diffuse the excitement surrounding Saturday’s Obon Festival.

“We’re kicking it off for five temples,” Brian Komoto said. “We kick off the season here in Visalia.”

Which means the dancing will continue even as those triple-digits keep climbing at temples located in Fresno, Reedley, Parlier and Fowler.

If that sounds exhausting, numerous familiar faces will be attending each and every one.

“This year what they’re trying to do is stimulate people to go to more than one, not just your local one,” Komoto said.

As an incentive, those who attend three Obon Festivals or more will receive a commemorative pin.

For those willing to dance the heat away in Visalia, there was already a special gift in store in the form of a commemorative fan.

Each one was handed out to individuals who participated in the dance line for at least one dance during the evening, and its those fans that will be stamped at each Obon to recognize the dancers in attendance.

Among those certain to earn their pin are Koru Taiko, Visalia’s own Taiko group who performed prior to the entrance of the Reverend and the Dancers.

While the playing of Taiko drums have roots in feudal Japan for ushering in battles, in this instance they are used to usher in the meaning of Obon as a “gathering of joy.”

That joy is found in fondly remembering those who came before us.

“It’s called the dance for the dead, but it’s actually in honor of your ancestors,” Brian Komoto said. “So what you’re doing is you’re kind of welcoming your ancestors back home and the lanterns are lighting the way. We dance in celebration of our culture and our history.”

The culture and history behind Obon is a blend of Buddhism and Japanese, and the celebration invites those sharing that rich background to return to Visalia to celebrate their heritage whether they are dressed in colorful Kimonos, yukatas, Happi coats, or just a simple T-shirt and jeans.

As the host of this Obon, Brian Komoto said it simply when he addressed the crowd that had gathered underneath the gently waving lanterns.

“For those attending for the first time, feel free to join in at any time. Obon is for everyone, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike,” he said. “The object of the evening is to have fun, to remember our ancestors, catch up with friends, and just celebrate life.”

In the midst of the wilted flowers and heat-exhausted pets, a celebration of life is just what Visalia needed.

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