Written in 2010, still holds. Addendum at end.
The first thing I notice at bon dance is that it is inter-generational. I love that there are people of all ages who enjoy dancing. The young are noticeably more lively, putting skips and hops and double steps where we would do a step, but that is natural diversity.
The next thing, is that in this particular church, I have a connection with my family history. My dad’s side is Buddhist and most of my relatives on his side are Buddhist. I see my cousins there and their kids. I wonder if my dad ever danced bon dance or was he always the reserved samurai I knew him to be. As I am dancing, my mind wanders and I think, wow, it looks like this will last another generation. The kids will carry on this tradition just as the adults now took over from the previous generation.
Along those lines, it is a community, the church is a community, just as my church is, and so during bon dance season, and at funerals and other church-centered events, I am part of that community. I think it is comforting to be part of something, not to be an island unto myself. And I think it is healthy to belong to many different communities. I believe that is how you form your identity.
Another thing, you don’t have to be a great dancer to dance. You can just follow along. You can admire the good dancers, and make sure you have one of them in your eyesight so that you can follow them.
There is of course, the dance aspect, moving your body in time to a drumbeat, and trying to coordinate your hands and feet so that you are in sync with everyone else. Movement is good for your body and dance is good for your soul, bon dance in particular, somehow. When you do “becho becho,” you really feel that somehow this is supposed to be for your soul. If you are depressed and feeling lost, do becho becho, get caught up in the repetitive movements, and swing right, swing left, step right, step left, stomp with an x. Again and again. Again and again. And you get into this mental and spiritual space of flow, perhaps connecting to your ancestors who have passed. That’s what it’s all about anyway.
Addendum in 2014. I still love bon dance. More and more, it is becoming a meld of old and new. Here is an example. It opens with the Daifukuji Taiko Drum group, whose aim is performance and they are really good. Throughout the bon, the Hongwanji Taiko group kept the beat. They are not performance oriented, but their aim seems to be to just be good at what they do, which is to keep the beat. At intermission, they stepped out of that role, and featured Jordan, on Western style drums, accompanied by the taiko. It was pretty impressive. Another example was a traditional dance done to the tune of a Michael Jackson song. Oh, and I forgot to mention that line dancing at bon dance is part of the fun - Electric Slide, Cupid Shuffle, Mambo 5 and this year, Happy, done with the motions to Electric Slide. At the same time that there is a more obvious blend of old and new, there are a lot of people, mostly women and girls, who are wearing kimono.
Diane Aoki is a writer who explores other modes of creativity as her intuition leads her.