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SF Japantown Lantern Parade Festival/Bon Odori Dance 2010 September 2, 2010

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Japan.
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Last weekend I attended the 2010 Lantern Parade Festival/Bon Odori Dance in San Francisco’s Japantown that I heard about from my professor. Though I went to the Bon Festival to do a report about it for class, I also went because I enjoy visiting Japantown and absorbing whatever Japanese culture I can get there too.


Obon (お盆) or just Bon (盆) is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of one’s ancestors. This Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to ancestral family places and visit and clean their ancestors’ graves, and when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to revisit the household altars. It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.” From Wikipedia.

In a sense, this Japanese event is to remember and honor their ancestors with dance and festival like activities. It’s similar to Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration. Yukata are traditionally worn during the festival as it is held during summer when it is warm.

I’ll let my pictures do the talking for a bit. For some reason my photos look a bit blurry here. Click on the photo to see a high res version of it. Reminds me to get a DSLR camera when I can afford one.

If you look closely, you can see the lion doing the lion dance. I think that if you’re bitten by it you gain good luck. I saw a few people “bitten” by the lion. Was a bit funny watching the little kids running away though.

Paper Lanterns – We don’t have a river around San Francisco so no lanterns on water here. That’s definitely something worth seeing when I go to Japan. Here is an explanation about the paper lanterns (from Wikipedia): “The festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of lanterns. Paper lanterns are illuminated and then floated down rivers symbolically signaling the ancestral spirits’ return to the world of the dead. This ceremony usually culminates in a fireworks display.” No hanabi here either.

There were a lot of very young children attending and participating in the Bon Festival, many non-Japanese. It just goes to show how multicultural San Francisco is.

The festival as a whole was a lot smaller than I thought. The picture above is pretty much where everything is happening.

While taking pictures, I happened to see these Japanese performers (from Japan) taking a group picture. I snapped a picture of them taking a picture. The guy here even has the same camera as me, but different color.

This is part of the problem I have with my camera, how it adjusts to lighting. The sky is too bright here but if I focus on the sky the rest of the photo becomes dark like the photo below. Maybe it’s my camera settings, or maybe it’s because my camera can’t handle balance lighting…. I don’t know.

The weather here was quite nice. It was foggy in my area of San Francisco when I left to get to Japantown, but it cleared up when I arrived here. Nice sunset.

I didn’t stay to the end of the festival because I wanted to get back home before it got too dark. The festival was supposed to end at 9:30pm but I left two hours early. I don’t think I missed too much.

While leaving I passed by a place in Japantown that sells Taiyaki. I haven’t tried it yet but it sounds good. Next time I visit I’ll try one.

The Bon Festival was a nice cultural experience to watch. It was a bit cold but at least the sun came out. It was refreshing to come to Japantown for other than the Sakura Matsuri, because there are a lot less people and also it’s not all about anime/manga/otaku stuff. Besides my interest in Japanese pop culture, I’m also interested in Japan’s “normal” culture as well. I hope that all of you as well experience other Japanese custom events besides ones related to the topic of “Otaku”.

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