I had been waiting since last fall, when I first moved to the neighborhood, to experience this event. A day of celebrating ancestors through community dance and music: the July Obon Festival! And, this being the "125th Anniversary" of Japantown, it would certainly be amped up more than usual.
Let's pause for a moment for me to explain that in the small town where I grew up (pop. about 7,000 people), my father belonged to the local Lion's Club. Each summer, his Club would put on a fundraising event which was primarily a Car Show, but also had face-painters, a petting zoo, people selling crafts and snacks, musicians, and even a theatre troupe to perform the tales of Anansi the Spider for children like myself. I loved this event. It is, after all, where my first and only pet that didn't live in a tank was acquired. But it was a small town event which you'd only look forward to if you were a small town resident.
Back to Japantown, in San Jose (pop. over 1 million people, 55,000+ in my zip code)... In my mind, I pictured something graceful, lovely, and over-the-top. The reality was a little different. To quote a friend who joined me, "This isn't what I expected."
The Obon Festival was sweet. There were games for children, outstanding Taiko drumming performances, and handmade crafts for sale. It was neat to see crowds of people, of all skill levels, dance together in the Obon Odori. But, it felt more like a small town event, like a rural car show. Which, I must say, is exactly why I like my new neighborhood.
It's not polished or glamorous. It's just a simple place where a community lives and occasionally celebrates our ancestors together in what I can only describe as the fan dance equivalent of country line dancing. And, being Japantown, the photo opportunities absolutely lived up to my expectations: