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Auburn embraces Bon Odori Festival | Slideshow
Okinawa Kenjin Club's big drums beat out a steady "boom boom boom, whack! boom-boom, boom-boom, whack!" powerful enough to brush back the hair and lift one slightly off the toes.
A woman tied a blue sash around her daughter's kimono and ushered the eager tot toward the dancing grounds where a throng of kimono-clad men and women and children circled to the music.
People gathered in the temple to chant sutras, children marched in a lantern procession.
On the grass, in folding chairs and under paper lanterns, more than 1,000 people took in Bon Odori, the midsummer celebration of color and song Saturday, welcoming back the departed with dancing, drumming and feasting at the White River Buddhist Temple on Auburn Way North.
Among them, Greg Watson, chairman of the Auburn Arts Commission.
"It's just a beautiful and fun thing to do and one of the most important cultural events that happens in Auburn every year," Watson said. "I am a great admirer of Japanese and Japanese-American culture and the role its played in Auburn history and its ongoing strength. I'm glad because we've gone through times when the Japanese part of the strength of our community has been worked against.
"This one of the things that gives me hope that we'll see more presence by Japanese families and businesses and that the Buddhist Temple will continue in strength. Plus, I love the music. The songs and the dances are beautiful," Watson said.
Concurrently, the temple holds a service for everybody who has passed since the last O-Bon, a party, if you will, for the people who have left. A week earlier, members of the congregation, or sangha, held a service and visited loved ones graves, to clean them up and to leave flowers.
"It's how I grew up in the valley here," said Auburn City Councilman John Holman. "And Bon Odori, of course, is a celebration of ancestors."
Everything from spiced beef bowls, teriyaki chicken, bento lunches and somen – cold noodles in broth – to flavored shaved ice, hot dogs, hamburgers, desserts and cold beverages drew the hungry to more than a dozen booths.
Kaki Kesterson explained why the mid-summer festival matters so much.
"It's called the dance of joy, the dance of happiness," Kesterson said. "Life can be very stressful; we can get caught up in the tension it takes to get through each day. But in the moment there's also joy, so come back to that. Just dance, just be in the moment and celebrate who you are. It's a very happy thing."
"Everybody that grew up in this area returns," said Renton resident Kerry Taniguchi. "This is a once-a-year gathering of all the friends, literally. You see people you haven't seen for years. This is a lot of fun. There are a lot of O-Bons in the Seattle Tacoma area, but the one at White River is the one they come to. It's community, it's small, and, as you can see, everybody out there knows almost everyone else."