Big drums

The Japanese American National Museum is currently running an interesting taiko drum exhibit. I was surprised to learn that JA’s were pioneers in do-it-yourself taiko drum making. This was done out of necessity, as drums from Japan cost thousands of dollars. DIY drums were made for a few hundred.There was also a nice tie-in to Obon, a timely theme with the many celebrations at Buddhist churches here. In Japan, Obon holiday falls each year on August 13 – 15.

The origins of Obon, also called Urabon or Bon, can be traced to a Buddhist sutra that tells the story of Mogallana, a disciple of Buddha who, in meditation, saw his deceased mother suffering in the realm of Hungry Ghosts. He tried giving her food but it turned to flames. Buddha advised him to engage in a “jishi,” or retreat, and make an offering for his fellow monks. This done, he saw his mother released from suffering and he danced for joy.

To (Berkeley Higashi Honganji reverend) Yamada, the spiritual essence of Obon isn’t about bringing rest to the dead or luck to ourselves or others.

“The most important thing is to reflect on our own lives, appreciate our own life and the people in it,” he says. “Obon is really a great observance of impermanence.”

Obon remains one of the most important Buddhist observances. It is celebrated in several Asian countries but none with more extravagance than Japan, where nationwide travel hits a peak in July and August as millions of Japanese journey home for Obon. The largest Bon Odori festival is in Gujo Hachiman, a city in the mountainous Gifu prefecture of Japan’s Honshu island, where as many as 100,000 pilgrims converge to participate in four nights of dancing till dawn.



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