By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
It was a weekend of firsts at the Long Beach Japanese Cultural Center’s annual Japanese festival. This year, for the first time, origami was introduced as an activity at the carnival. Staff and students from California State University, Long Beach Japanese Garden gave instruction in the paper-folding art. An exhibition of photos presented by the Terminal Islanders was also held for the first time, displaying some of their rich history to the diverse and multigenerational gathering.
The center has been serving the Long Beach community since 1955 and hosts various cultural classes such as taiko, judo, ikebana, and a Japanese language school. The highlight of the carnival was the Ondo dancing on Saturday evening.
“Even though it is similar to the Obon dance, we are not affiliated with any churches officially, so we call it Ondo but basically, the contents are similar to Bon-dance,” said Ole Nervik, president of the Board of Directors.
Seabright Avenue was temporarily blocked and the taiko-yagura (drum-tower) was set up.More than 100 people gathered around the drum tower and danced eight folk songs, including “One Plus One Ondo” and “Coal Miners’ Song”. In the circle, a group called “Obon Jivers” wearing dark outfits and sunglasses also participated. According to the leader, Mary Yamabe, was started five years ago by her husband Noe Yamabe.
“The Obon Jivers was formed to have fun and to encourage people to dance who do not have odori training. We participate in the various Obon Festivals throughout Southern California. The original four men in the group, Noe Yamabe, Stan Kong, Dave Saika and Tom Ishimine began dressing as Elvis Presley and since then have added others and now have a group totaling 16 members,” said Yamabe.
In the future, the Obon Jivers will be at the San Fernando Buddhist Church on July 3, Orange County Buddhist Church on July 17, Gardena Buddhist Church on Aug. 1 and the closing ceremony of the Nisei Week Festival on Aug. 22.