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White River Buddhist Temple Invites All to Their 50th Bon Odori Festival

The White River Buddhist Temple is excited to host their 50th Bon Odori Festival this Saturday, July 27th.  This family-friendly festival is open to the public.   The event is scheduled from 4:00-9: 30pm.  City of Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus will be one of the honored guests of the festival.

To learn more about this event and what to expect, we spoke with Reverend Jim Warrick.

Auburn Examiner: For those unfamiliar, what is a Bon Odori Festival?

Rev. Jim Warrick:  Obon (お盆) is the Japanese Buddhist holiday to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors.  Obon is celebrated with the Bon Odori dance and Toro Nagashi (the floating of lanterns inscribed with the names of ancestors.)   The floating of lanterns down the river symbolizes the return of ancestral spirits to the other shore, from whence they came.  The Children’s Lantern parade also symbolizes the Toro Nagashi since each child carries a lantern inscribed with a departed Sangha member’s name.

Bon Odori dancing originated from the story of Mokuren who was a disciple of the Buddha.  It has significant religious importance and is the highlight of the Obon festival.

AE: For the Toro Nagashi, as the temple is not on the river, how will the floating of the lanterns be handled?

RJW: I suspect when the children carry the lanterns in the lantern parade, we will go about it
in a sort of winding course somewhat like the course of a river leading up to the stage where the lanterns will be placed on display.

AE: Everyone is welcome to the festival.  For someone who has never attended before, what should they expect?

RJW: There will be food booths which offer Japanese sweet treats such as mochi, monju, and of course shaved ice with many flavors to choose from.  Hot dogs, spam musubi and apple pie with ice cream is also offered.  The dancing is described in this way: Bon Odori dancing is a spirited activity in which we dance without fretting over how we look, no showing off one’s ability, no flaunting, just dance and you will feel fulfillment and pure ego-less joy.

AE: This is the 50th annual festival, do you have anything special planned?

RJW:  The activities planned are pretty much the same as in past years. We will probably recognize some of the people who started the Obon dancing here at WRBT.

AE: What is the Obon service like?

RJW: Service should consist of a short sutra chant and a short Dharma message (sermon) with perhaps the singing of a gatha (hymn).

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White River Buddhist Temple 2019 Happi Coats | courtesy photo, White River Buddhist Temple

AE: The temple has special Happi coats.  These look different than the traditional Kimono.  Can you share what a Happi coat is.

RJW: Happi coats are lightweight cotton coats or jackets worn during festivals. They are baggy-sleeved short cotton jackets sometimes tied with a sash around the waist.

AE:  What is the recommended attire for attending public?

RJW: Casual clothing; shorts, pants, tops that are cool on a summer night.  Some folks wear a combination of Japanese and western clothing.  Remember you are going to be dancing and enjoying yourself not really worrying about how you look.

AE: In Japan, this year’s Bon will be celebrated August 15th.  Is there a reason the temple celebrates their festival earlier?

RJW:  Obon is observed from the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month of the year, which is July according to the solar calendar. However, since the 7th month of the year roughly coincides with August rather than July according to the formerly used lunar calendar, Obon is still observed in mid-August in many regions of Japan, while it is observed in mid-July in other regions.  Seattle Temple, White River, and Tacoma usually hold their festivities on different weekends during the month of July and early August loosely conforming to the solar calendar.

During this Obon season, we open our Temple to the public and ask that they come join us in our dances of Joy as we celebrate our ancestors and all their contribution to our lives.

As a part of the event, the White River Buddhist Temple will be collecting non-perishable food items and monetary donations in support of the Auburn Food Bank!

The Festival Schedule:

Okinawa Kenjin-Kai Taiko Group Performance 4 pm
Booths & Beer Garden Open at 4 pm
Children’s Lantern Parade at 5 pm
Obon Service at 5:30 pm
Welcome Ceremonies at 6 pm
Odori Dancing Starts at 6:15 pm
Seattle Matsuri taiko performance at 7:30 pm

3625 Auburn Way North Auburn, WA 98002- 253-833-1442
(the intersection of Auburn Way N. and 37th St. NE)
Parking Available with suggested $10 Donation
For more information and to catch a sneak peek follow the White River Buddhist Temple on Instagram: @whiteriverbt

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