Above and below: Halldale Avenue between 166th Street and Gardena Boulevard was once again filled with dancers after the hiatus caused by the pandemic.

It seems like we now refer to events and timing of things as “pre-pandemic” and “post-pandemic.” On Aug. 14, Gardena Buddhist Church held a post-pandemic “Welcome Back” Obon Dance, which was open to the public. 

Isami Taiko started the evening by bringing the crowd together with the upbeat pounding of the drums. Our Obon Dance gathered roughly 1,000 dancers, which is close in numbers to a pre-pandemic Obon. We danced in the street, which was decorated with paper lanterns, along with the colorful yagura (tower) in the center of the familiar three chalk lines indicating the dance circle. 

As spectators and dancers came together, it was wonderful to see their excitement as they were reunited with one another — some of them not seeing each other since pre-pandemic times.

Obon is also a time where many other temple members visit and support other Obons. We had many temples dancing with us, including Nishi, Orange County, Oxnard and San Diego, among others. We even had dancers from Colorado! 

We were not able to sell food at this Obon, but many people were enjoying store-bought bentos, or they brought homemade musubi and goodies. All attendees were able to enjoy a special treat — free ice cream bars courtesy of the Kinecta Federal Credit Union’s Ice Cream cart! The ice cream treats were refreshing on such a warm summer evening! 

Obon dance teachers. Back row: Lauren Kawahara, Susan Mukai, Nadine Kakimoto (lead teacher and Obon co-chair), Imogene Imada, Claire Imada. Front row: Alan Kita, Katie Morimoto, Chizuko Morimoto, Mitzi Shimizu, Irene Igawa.

Many people were posing in front of our photo backdrop, smiling and laughing as they took selfies.   

Brian, Gay and Bailey Kurahashi at Gardena Obon 2022. Gay is holding the paper lantern to remember Conner’s Hatsubon. (Photo provided by Gay Kurahashi)

Obon, known as “Gathering of Joy,” is a time to remember and pay tribute to our loved ones who have passed before us. It is also a time to enjoy the present moment together with loved ones. This year’s Obon was especially meaningful for the Kurahashi family, who lost their beloved son/brother, Conner, after a traffic accident earlier this year. Conner was an active member of the Gardena Buddhist Church. 

Brian, Gay and Bailey were able to observe Hatsubon, the first Obon after a loved one has passed, for Conner by attending the special service held in the morning and then dancing in the evening. The Kurahashi family said, “It was fun to get together with family and friends to celebrate Conner’s life.”

We hope that everyone enjoyed our welcome back, post pandemic Obon Dance. We would like to express our deep gratitude to our sponsors (Union Bank, Nikkei Credit Union, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, Raytheon Aspire Group, Trader Joe’s and Yamada Company); to our neighbors and local community; and especially to everyone who came out to support our Obon Dance and make it a success! 

— Sharyl Yamada-Oda

Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)

Isami Taiko performed before the dancing and individual members kept the beat during the dancing.

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