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A beautiful young obon dancer
A beautiful young obon dancer
A beautiful young obon dancer
A beautiful young obon dancer
Pictured above... a lovely young obon dancer
Photos and Text by Mark Vallen ©

Since I live and work in Los Angeles, I always attend the annual Nisei Week Festival (Nisei are U.S. born offspring of native Japanese immigrants). During the month of August, the Japanese American community of L.A. celebrates O-bon... when the souls of the deceased come back to this world to visit us. The highlight of the celebration comes when everyone is invited to join the o-bon folk dance to honor and console the dead ancestors.

The Nisei Week Festival is timed to coincide with the Japanese festival of O-bon, and is celebrated with art exhibits, food, music, crafts, parades and much more. The festival always attracts many thousands of people to L.A.'s historic Little Tokyo disctrict. I'm very pleased to be able to share my O-bon /Nisei Week photographs with you... taken during the celebrations of 2000, 2001, and 2002.

Carrying the portable Shrine
Carrying the portable Shrine
This photo is from the 1997 Nisei Week Matsuri and shows members of the community carrying the o-mikoshi. (mikoshi means portable Shrine - the "o" is an honorific). The mikoshi houses the kami (God) of the village, and carrying the Shrine through the town brings good fortune!
Dozens of people carry and dance the heavy mikoshi through the streets, and at the end of the ritual journey, a barrel of sake (rice wine) is opened to please the kami and also to refresh the crowd of revelers!
Carrying the portable Shrine
Carrying the portable Shrine
Mounted Archer on parade
Mounted Archer on parade

In 1998, the Nisei Week matsuri had as its honored guests, thirty four members of the Iimori Shrine Toryu Yabusame. The ancient art of Yabusame (archery from horseback) is part of bushido, or the way of the warrior. The martial discipline started some 800 years ago under the reign of the Samurai class, but it also had a religious connotation.

Yabusame was a contest that challenged a mounted archer to hit three targets while riding a galloping horse. The military significance of such a skill is evident, but the act of hitting the target also symbolizes harmony between heaven and earth.

Yabusame has been practiced for hundreds of years in Japan, but today the ritual archery is mostly seen only at special events associated with various Shinto Shrines. The troupe that attended the '98 Nisei Week Festival is from the Iimori Shrine in Fukoka City, and the archery was perfomed by Shinto Priests and the archers who train them.

The troupe participated in the Nisei Week Parade (where these photos were taken), but later gave an exhibition of their skills at the Los Angeles Equestrian Event Center. Co-sponsored by the L.A. Kyudo Kai (kyudo is traditional Japanese archery), the event attracted nearly 2,000 people.

Shinto Priest and Archer
Shinto Priest and Archer
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