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Where EAST meets the Northwest

AMERICAN OBON. Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga (1900-1950) is seen dancing at an obon festival in the 1940s. Iwanaga introduced bon odori (obon dancing) to the west coast of the United States in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy of Linda Akiyama and Wynn Kiyama)

From The Asian Reporter, V27, #16 (August 21, 2017), page 11.

"American Obon" traces the development of bon odori in North America

The summer obon festival, which is eagerly anticipated within Nikkei communities throughout North America, is an event at which people gather for a memorial observance honoring ancestors while also enjoying camaraderie, cultural performances, and food. The most iconic element of the festival occurs when participants gather in a circle for bon odori (obon dancing), a tradition that was introduced to the west coast of the United States in the 1930s by Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga (1900-1950).

Iwanaga’s pioneering activities are celebrated in "American Obon: Dancing in Joy and Remembrance," an exhibit currently on display at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. The exhibit traces the development of bon odori in North America through archival photos, audio, and rare video footage on loan from the Iwanaga family, dance scholar Linda Akiyama, and Buddhist Churches of America. The exhibit, curated by Dr. Wynn Kiyama, also highlights the obon tradition in Portland, Oregon with photographs from the Oregon Nikkei Endowment’s Frank C. Hirahara collection.

"American Obon: Dancing in Joy and Remembrance" is on view through October 15 at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, located at 121 N.W. Second Avenue in Portland. On Saturday, August 26 from 11:00am to 3:00pm as part of a Family Day event, and on Thursday, September 7 from 4:00 to 7:00pm as part of First Thursday activities, admission to the exhibit is free and open to the public. To learn more, call (503) 224-1458 or visit <www.oregonnikkei.org>.

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