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Seattle celebrates Obon, commemorating ancestors believed to be temporarily visting our world

It’s Obon time, a time to commemorate one’s ancestors whose spirits are believed to be temporarily visiting our world. It happens every summer, and one event many look forward to is Bon Odori!

“We close the street, and we set the stage and we dance, and people think this is just a fun event, of course, it’s a fun event, but it’s a religious event too. Through the Obon dancing, we express our appreciation and respect to the ones who passed away before us,” Reverend Katsuya said.

Obon season has many traditions. A popular tradition for families is hanging lanterns outside their homes to attract their ancestors this time of year.

“You know families are coming back to this world, so it’s one year, that’s a long time they haven’t seen each other, so we try to get our ancestors to come back to the right place like here’s your home, please come back to the right place,” Reverend Katsuya said.

Bon Odori has been referred to as a gathering of joy. For Miya Nakata, dancing at the festival has been in her generation for decades.

“We go over some of the dances and explain the movements, and if you don’t go to those you can also show up and the dancers will be in the center and you can go in there and be like oh okay cool I got it!” Nakata said.

“Bon Odori is about honoring and celebrating our ancestors so it’s the main reason we have it so we dance in celebration and enjoy honoring them. Dancing is an art form right, it’s an expressive outlet so whether you’re here for your religious reasons or to experience a new culture, you can connect with your loved ones who have passed.” Temple member and Bon Odori Emcee, Krista Lee said.

Seattle Bon Odori is a tradition that’s been around for many years. This is the 91st festival and temple members want everyone to know they’re welcome to enjoy their traditions and culture while making new connections.

“What I hope people take away is that they get to experience Japanese culture and food and that they get to connect with old friends. With this being our first year we’re back live and not virtual, it’s very exciting. It’s so special for people to have those bon odori connections when they meet up with people and their friends, especially for us in our friend group. We have friends that left for college or work out of state, and everyone makes a true effort to come back and see everyone at this event,” Temple member and Bon Odori Emcee, Jason Yokoyama said.

Check out the Seattle Buddhist temple in the China International District this weekend! You can experience dancing, Buddhist educational sessions, martial art demos, a tea ceremony, taiko drumming, food, and shopping from 2-8 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.