San Jose Obon Festival Dancers & the Women Who Dress Them in Kimonos

San Jose Betsuin Obon Festival 2011

San Jose Betsuin Obon Festival 2011 [Source: San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin]

The San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin held its annual Obon Festival over the weekend in San Jose, California.

Sharon Noguchi talked to the dressers, women who help dancers dress in their kimonos. Apparently this event takes place at many Buddhist temples in California, perhaps at Buddhist temples all over the world, and many of the temples have dressers available because dressing in a kimono poses a unique set of challenges.

The dressers Noguchi interviewed were getting up in years and were having problems recruiting younger women to help. Perhaps they will follow a previous generation in finding a solution:

"A similar scenario played out about 20 years ago in San Jose, where the issei, the immigrant generation, had been running the dressing room. 'Every year they had been telling people, you've got to learn to dress yourself,' Iwasaki said. 'Then one year, they didn't show up. People were shocked.'"

"Tanabe, who had come to the room to be dressed, and others ran to look for help. All the older ladies said they were busy. So she and other younger women pitched in, drawing on what they had observed over the years. Iwasaki ended up taking over the dressing room from her mother-in-law, Tsuruko Iwasaki, one of the women 'on strike'. And she's overseen it ever since."

Obon Dances 2007 [Source: jkktube]

The above video of the 2007 festival gives one a good sense of the dancing and the wide ranging mix of participants.

The video page has more information including a list of the 15 dances performed that year:

"On Sunday, the San Jose community danced Obon Odori to celebrate a Japanese festival called Obon Matsuri (odori=dance, matsuri=festival). Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival to honor one's ancestors. The colorful clothing are mostly yukatas and happi coats (different from kimonos)."

Apparently only a small number of the women wear actual kimonos which may, in part, have to do with things like needing a dresser!

The article by Noguchi also has a nice slideshow of the dancers being dressed.

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