SLO BUDDHIST TEMPLE
6996 Ontario Rd.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Ph. 805 595-2625
As we approach our Obon Festival which will be held on August 5th, we will be anticipating the Bon Odori with practices at our temple. For those unfamiliar with Bon Odori, it is traditional Japanese folk dancing which usually relates to an activity of a particular region. It is “Japanese line dancing” where the participants move around a circle or oval to music while repeating hand, arm, foot and body movements. It is a time for fun, unconcerned by how one looks or a feeling of foolishness. Like the previous years, the practices and the Bon Odori on August 5th will be led by SLOBC members Tomi Kobara and Julie Conaway.
Tomi has been teaching Bon Odori, or “Bon dance” to SLOBC members for 20 years. Tomi was born and raised in Japan, a “city girl” who can only remember dancing to “Tanko Bushi” when she visited her grandparents who lived in the “country.” However, her love of dancing and music made it only natural that she would later get involved in Bon dancing but first, she would move to Scottsdale, Arizona by way of Pakistan in 1975. She finished her senior year of high school in Scottsdale where it was 117 degrees during graduation ceremonies and relocated to cool Central Coast, California where she attended California Polytechnic Institute in San Luis Obispo.
At SLOBC, Tomi’s love for Bon dancing resulted in her being asked to help teach its members by Sue McCarthy who was formally trained in Japanese folk dancing. Tomi assisted each year and upon Sue’s departure, took over the responsibility of teaching our members and friends. What solidified her role as a teacher was the desire to personally teach her daughters, Katie and Sami, the proper movements of each dance and to do them with a joyful expression. Julie Conaway began assisting Tomi and each spring they would travel to Southern District of BCA (Los Angeles, Orange County, etc.) to learn the dances for that Obon season. Tomi would choose 6 or 7 of those dances and combine them with 6 or 7 other dances to make up the Bon Odori “menu” for our celebration. The “other” dances resulted from personal requests from members or choosing a dance related to a specific event or person. As an example, the second half of our Bon Odori always starts with “Gassho Ondo” in memory of Sue Hirase. Tomi is careful not to have too many dances where you would need a “kachi kachi,” an “uchiwa,” or a small towel and believes in “mixing it up.” She especially likes the newer dancers that come with a Latin beat. For each practice, Julie prepares delicious snacks which the participants look forward to after concentrating so hard to learn the steps of each dance.
Tomi has a repertoire of over 25 dances committed to memory but her favorite is “Sakura Ondo.” New dances are being created each year by individuals who have a passion for Bon Odori and one such person is Nobuko Miyamoto from Sen-shin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles. Examples of her works are the Crane Dance which debuted last year at our Obon Festival and this year’s new dance “Ichigi Ichiye” which translates to “You only have one opportunity so go for it!” I asked Tomi if she has created any Bon dance but she says she never gave it any thought. Her satisfaction comes from seeing everyone having a good time at the Obon Festival and helping people experience the joy that comes with Bon dancing. It’s nice to see little girls and women dressed in kimonos along with members from different churches/temples wearing their hapi coats but what one wears really doesn’t matter. It’s people ridding themselves of their ego and dancing with joy. She is also glad to see members of various families who have moved away but return to SLO to enjoy our Obon Festival especially her daughters who look forward to the Bon Odori. Maybe one day soon Tomi will be inspired to create a dance that tells of the people in San Luis Obispo County and the beauty of the area.
OKAZU by Gary Hongo
Summer is in full swing with temples and churches of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) celebrating Obon season. Obon, usually August 15, is observed with a special service around that date. Obon Festivals are also held during the summer months featuring food, crafts, games and dancing (Bon Odori).
Shall We Dance?