Sunday, August 21, 2005


The distinct songs and dance of a place are one of the things that give that place it's flavor, along with it's food, clothing, language, and history. When I lived in Thailand, I lived in the Northeast (called 'Isan' in Thai). One of the traditional musics of the area is called 'mo rum', which I think means 'Doctor Dance'. There was obviously dancing done with the music.
In Japan, at this time of year, traditional 'O-bon' music and dances are performed. Each area has it's own traditional dance, which children learn in school. Songs are also specific to the area, though the sound is much more regional.
The bon odori, or o-bon dance, and the o-bon festival itself are mainstays in traditional community life in Japan. In villages, they are the highlight of summer. In Tokyo, they are less common, though there is a thriving one in Iriya, where I used to have an apartment, and in other places in the 'downtown' area of eastern Tokyo, like Asakusa. This reminds me, in a way, of when my family moved to Eugene, Oregon. We had previously lived in Hillsboro, at the time a fairly small town (now much bigger, and headquarters to Intel's reasearch facilities), which had a thriving 4th of July parade and the Washington county fair. This was really a community thing, and people would line their lawn chairs up along Main Street to watch, and various clubs would prepare floats, schoolchildren would dress up, and so on. Prior to that we had lived in Oakville, Washington, a very small town of about 1,000 people, who were all, according to memory, absolutely mad about 4th of July, and would put a huge amount of effort into it. Eugene, though, had no 4th of July parade! I couldn't believe it. I sarcastically asked a man if they even had fireworks, which at the time they did, but which were later cancelled because of budget or insurance or something. It was a paradox: Such a city, of 120,000 people, paradoxically, had less ability, because it consisted of not just one community, but many, to hold community-wide events. That has now been remedied by the Eugene Celebration, Eugene's answer to the traditional 4th of July celebration, which is more fitting with the bohemian nature of the town. It is more modern, less about history, tradition, and patriotism, and more about celebrating.
Tonight was the community festival, held at my son's elementary school. There was singing and dancing and food. The people organising the events were the community association folks, the same ones that had organised the volleyball tournament I participated in several months ago.
I saw the people I had played volleyball with tonight, and they couldn't seem to be bothered to say hello. I had a sort of warm glow, like we had really bonded, after the tournament was finished, so that sort of hurts. All of those guys I had played volleyball with were public workers, and then I look and see them participating in these kinds of events, sitting in the community tent, drinking and eating from the fees that everyone in the community pays, wearing costumes that the community buys, and perhaps it was just something I missed, but I don't recall seeing a call for participation, any notice of how that might happen, or anything like that. For these guys, it seems like these kinds of events are an extension of their jobs, with lots of backslapping, and cliques. Community is important to them, but it is one of those non-inclusive communities, that even people who actually live there have to make a lot of effort to join. It is, especially as a non-Japanese, easy to feel left out.
The song and dance, though, are there for everyone, and perhaps this is the point of them: The sort of formal 'community' is less important than that everyone share in the music and dance. If that is the case, it is definitely a tradition that I hope to see continued.


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