By MARIO G. REYES
This past weekend was the Gardena Valley Buddhist Church’s Obon, which typically means that the Obon season for the Southern California area has come to an end.
Well time to pack away those yukatas, happi coats, getas and zoris, and wait for next summer.
But before we start talking about next year’s Obon, I wanted to recognize one Obon that really stood out this year. It was the 50th year anniversary Obon held at Higashi Honganji. As part of their celebration, Higashi invited happyfunsmile, a band from New York, to warm up the crowd and get the dancers going— and WOW, did they get them going.
Singers Akiko QP Hiroshima and Brian Nishii really pumped things up with their powerful and enthusiastic singing. When Akiko sang the “Hanabi Ondo,” you could almost hear the fireworks going off. And she even brought to life the more subdued “Bon Odori Uta.”
It was too bad they didn’t sing for the entire evening. Even a tired, real coal miner would have gotten up and danced when they blasted out a rousing rendition of the classic “Tanko Bushi.” That’s how energetic happyfunsmile was.
In the past, I’ve been to Obons where they had a guest singer belt out one or two Bon odori songs but it’s been nothing like happyfunsmile. It helps that happyfunsmile has live musicians backing up the vocals, but the interesting thing is that the musicians weren’t Nikkei. They included Bill Boyer, Josh Rutner, Benjamin Gallina, Red Wierenga and Ryan Dorin.
The special part of this band is Wynn Yamami, who plays the part of a chindon-ya. From what I’ve been told, a chindon-ya, in Samurai-era Japan, was part town crier, part traveling musician, who dressed up in colorful, outrageous costumes and played all sorts of instruments to attract a crowd. You could say they were a mix between what Westerners know as Gypsies and Vaudevillians.
Other than this, I don’t know anything else about the musicians. But I had a brief chat with Brian’s wife, and I learned that lead vocalists Akiko and Brian, a happa, grew up in Japan so they are native Japanese speakers, who understand the spirit of the Obon.
Hopefully, happyfunsmile will be invited back next year. What better way to honor our ancestors than to dance joyfully to a band that can uphold the Obon tradition in America.
Namu Amida Butsu to that!
Mario G. Reyes is the Rafu Photo Editor. He can be reached at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff written column. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.