PORTLAND, Ore. — The summer Obon festival is an eagerly anticipated event within Nikkei communities throughout North America. People come for the memorial observance, camaraderie, cultural performances, and food, but perhaps the most iconic element of the Obon festival occurs when participants gather in a circle for the Bon odori.

Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga at an Obon festival in the 1940s.

Rev. Yoshio Iwanaga introduced this tradition to numerous Nikkei communities along the West Coast in the 1930s, and now, his pioneering activities will be celebrated in an exhibit at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center.

“American Obon: Dancing in Joy and Remembrance,” which will run from July 29 to Oct. 15, will trace the development of Bon odori in North America through archival photographs, audio, and rare video footage on loan from the Iwanaga family, dance scholar Linda Akiyama and Buddhist Churches of America.

In addition, the Obon tradition in Portland will be highlighted with photographs from Oregon Nikkei Endowment’s Frank C. Hirahara Collection. Curated by Dr. Wynn Kiyama (Portland State University and Portland Taiko), this exhibit will be the first of its kind in North America.

An Obon dance rehearsal will be held at the Japanese American Historical Plaza, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, on Saturday July 29, from 6 to 8 pm. Free and open to the public.

The Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center is located at 121 NW 2nd Ave. in Portland. The exhibit will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 3 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students, and free to members of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment. Updates on affiliated exhibit programs can be found on the organization’s website at www.oregonnikkei.org. For more information, call (503) 224-1458.

The mission of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment is to preserve and honor the history and culture of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest, to educate the public about the Japanese American experience during World War II, and to advocate for the protection of civil rights for all Americans. Its projects include the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Waterfront Park, designed by landscape architect Robert Murase, and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a place to explore the culture and history of Japanese Americans, located in Portland’s historic Old Town neighborhood.

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