OCHAZUKE: Welcoming the Start of Obon Season

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By GWEN MURANAKA

Even if the skies are June gloomy, the summer is already in full swing in the JA community. Looking at this weekend’s full line-up of festivals — from Orange County to West Covina, from the Valley to Long Beach, there will be the pounding of taiko drums, the bright sounds of kachi-kachi, and the colorful swaying of yukatas that can only be found at a Japanese American Obon festival.

It’s a renewal of a tradition that seems to only grow bigger and more diverse every year, a distinctly Japanese American, not Japanese tradition. When I worked in Tokyo, Obon seemed a more somber affair that was celebrated in August when the city would empty as families left to go back to their hometowns for ohaka mairi (visiting the family gravesites).

That message of family reverence is part of JA Obons as well, in the lighted lanterns and services for the recently departed, and in the time and energy it takes to keep these traditions alive. I’m one of those on the sidelines who can only admire and applaud the grace and effort of the dancers. This is only the beginning of their season, although they have been practicing for weeks now. With the endurance of marathon runners, they will be out there every weekend in the ebbing twilight of warm summer nights. The weekends will be filled with “Tanko Bushi,” “Ichi Tasu Ichi (One Plus One)” and “Sho Tokyo Ondo” from now until the finale at the Nisei Week closing ceremony in the middle of August. In every step they showcase what is best about being Japanese American. Good luck and ganbare!

Grace, beauty and dedication at the start of the long Obon season. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Of course the other great thing about Obon festivals is the food. Everybody has their favorites, from the grilled corn and crispy andagi donuts, to chicken teriyaki and Spam musubi. I can’t go to a Japanese festival without ordering a bowl of udon. For all the trendiness of ramen these days, I don’t think anything beats a bowl of festival udon, with kamaboko and a generous sprinkling of green onions. I’d be curious to hear what are some other festival favorites?

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Thank you so much to all of the readers who have expressed such kind thoughts on Eric and my wedding. Love is truly a wonderful thing and as Japanese Americans, I think we hesitate to express such thoughts, even if it is the most universal and happiest of emotions. Jack Fujimoto, who has done so much to preserve the Sawtelle community in West Los Angeles, wrote, “Grace and I have continued to our 57th and look forward to more. So, our experience says that you too can.”

The start of a journey together is cause for celebration. However I am truly in awe of those couples who have grown old together, shared the good and bad times, and still love one another — that is truly a reason for celebration and joy.

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One way couples in Japan make their relationships work is by keeping the husband on a tight financial leash or okozukai (allowance). Traditionally, many men will give their salaries to their wives and receive an okozukai in return for their out-of-pocket expenses. In return, the wife will manage the household expenditures, including the housework and taking care of the children.

In 2011, that amount came to a somewhat measly ¥36,500 a month or about $373, according to a survey done by Shinsei Financial Co., with about half of all households managed solely by women. These percentages have changed as more couples work and manage their own finances. It’s almost unfathomable that a salaryman can survive on so little in a city like Tokyo, where a night out can easily set you back ¥10,000 yen or more. Particularly in a one-income family, okozukai seems to be a way that women maintain control so there is money at the end of the month.

I can certainly understand the impulse, since I know I tend to be more financially conservative and the saver in our relationship. Although I haven’t given an okozukai to my husband, I definitely am the one who emphasizes that we need to save more for a rainy day. No doubt a lot of couples balance one another when it comes to the practical realities of building their lives together.

Gwen Muranaka is Rafu English editor-in-chief and may be contacted via email. Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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