Greener BeeGreen HolidaysJapanese holiday to honor loved ones

The popular, volunteer-run, Japanese Bon Festival will return for its 10th year on Sept. 10. at Booker T. Washington High School.

Bon Fest is derived from Obonone of Japan’s most well-known holidays. The traditional holiday has been celebrated for more than 500 years and typically focuses on commemorating one’s ancestors over the course of three days. It is believed that each year during Obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to earth to briefly visit their relatives. While customs vary from region to region, many festival participants hang special paper lanterns — cho-chin — above their doors as a way to guide their ancestors’ spirits home. Many also construct altars in their homes and prepare special food offerings at temples or graves.

The Pensacola festival will take place during a single day, and feature a Taiko drum show, a Bon Dance, a Mikoshi Parade and many other interactive activities.

Kumiko Curtis, a Pensacola resident and Japan native, has celebrated the holiday throughout her life, both in Nagasaki, where she was born, and in Florida. She has been an integral part of the volunteer team for the Pensacola Bon Fest since 2007, when it originated.

“In my hometown in the middle of August, we would gather over three days and celebrate our ancestors coming to visit us,” Curtis said. “There’s often folk dancing, and drums, as we entertain the spirits.”

She noted the lanterns also serve a big role in the celebration, and that many families place a lantern above their door at home.

“The closest person to me is my father; he passed away four years ago and I think about him during the festival,” she said.

Curtis said she wants communities in Pensacola to come out and experience the Japanese culture and to enjoy the holiday.

While the holiday is normally celebrated in mid-to-late August, this year’s Obon was moved to September to include University of West Florida exchange students from Japan.

Yukari Nakanura, a 29-year-old student at UWF, will attend the festival for the second year in a row. Nakanura arrived in Pensacola from Japan in January 2015 and is excited to again participate in a familiar cultural holiday.

“Last time I attended the festival, the taiko drum songs reminded me of Japan, because during the summer, you see a lot of drum songs throughout Japan — it made me want to go back,” she said.

She also noted the curry was delicious and served as a comforting reminder of home.

The doors will open at noon Sept. 10 and the festival will continue throughout the day with various performances, activities and presentations.

For more information, contact BonfestPensacola@gmail.com.

Want to go?

Bon Festival Pensacola

Noon to 4 p.m. Sept. 10, at Booker T. Washington High School, 6000 College Parkway.

Schedule of events:

Noon: Doors open for the public
12:45 p.m. Taiko Drum show – Matsuriza.
1 p.m.: Opening remarks by Dr. Green T. Waggener and welcoming speech by Consul Zaima, consulate general of Japan. 
1:10 p.m. Bon Dance (Tankou Bushi – to traditional Japanese Music) Audience participation led by UWF Japan Club
1:25 p.m. Japanese Cultural Performances by UWF Japan Association and Student Clubs
1:35 p.m. Mikoshi Parade with children led by UWF Japan Club
2:20 p.m.  Bon Dance Tankou Bushi to the American song, “Beautiful Sunday.” Audience participation led by UWF Japan Club. 10 finalists will be selected and judged with an award going to the winner. 
2:45 p.m. Taiko Drum show – Matsuriza.
3:00 p.m. Taiko Dojo (workshop)- with audience participation
3:30 p.m. Finale – Okinawan Kachashi – audience participation. It’s customary for everyone to get up and join in the happy celebration of the day!


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