Facebook has this handy little way of reminding you of things you thought you would want to do. So as the World Cup semi-final game is finishing, my phone reminds me that in Ontario, Oregon at the Four Corners Heritage Museum an Obon festival is being held today. Doors open at 5 pm. I find the website. In Japan Obon is a holiday in August in which the whole country shuts down for a week. It is the reason we had to be in a hotel for twenty days when we first arrived. How ironic that it is today, in Idaho, that I learn the meaning of Obon.
This traditional religious holiday and folk festival combines Buddhist beliefs and Japanese culture in a memorial celebration. It is a time when everyone is happy and dancing with joy showing their appreciation for all the good things in life we have as a result of the loved ones who have passed away. Obon is a “FESTIVAL OF JOY”.
Now I really want to go. After some consternation we leave our hapi coat and yukata at home. Best see what the crowd is wearing for next year. We both are looking forward to being in Japanese culture. Hiroshima has been in the news a lot lately. There have been torrential rains and flooding. This will be a good place to be with our angst.
An hour drive west takes us through farmland. Irrigation systems, dairies, and harvest machinery remind me of my childhood summers on the farm. Signs lead us easily to the cultural center. When we turn the corner, a huge red tori gate welcomes us.
Then we see the line. A queue snakes out the door. We follow the crowd and take our place. Yep, this feels like a Japanese festival. The hall is wonderfully noisy. Red and pink lanterns, carp windsocks, and hanging lights decorate the hall. The sight of Japanese American faces fills space in my heart. It isn’t the first time that I wish my outside reflected the inside. I am home but no one can tell.
The program announces this is 72nd Japan Nite Obon festival.
The tables are already full of bento eaters. I notice many smiling, elderly Japanese Americans are leaving with to-go boxes. There are a few people, mostly children wear the colorful, comfortable, summer yukata or hapi coats. The taiko drummers gently ask their pardon as they set up. This huge line makes me worry they will run out of food. We pass by a window and on the other side the yakitori grills are shutting down. Sweaty cooks with messy aprons eat their meaty reward right off the stick.
The efficiency and orderliness is not surprising but comforting. We pick one of everything and are directed to the beer lobby. It is not a time to be shy, with so many people the only choice is to share tables. We sit down next to a handsomely dressed elderly couple. The gentleman has the tale tell signs of a farmer. A face weathered by the elements, bent, calloused hands, and a plaid shirt. I see the cowboy hat on his knee.
We make small talk. We tell them about living in Hiroshima. Their names are George and Doris. He is a farmer. Rich tells him I also grew up on a farm. When I tell him in Aberdeen, he says quietly, “I know Aberdeen. Do you know the Leisys?”
Aberdeen is a very small farming community on the edge of the desert so it isn’t surprising that I recognize this family.
“Well I worked on their farm harvesting potatoes. I was 14. I was in an internment camp.”
He’s looking me straight in the eyes. I look back. It’s the least I can do. I resist saying anything. What I have to say is to alleviate my feelings of discomfort. I swallow them instead.
“Were you treated well?” I ask.
“Yes, in Aberdeen we were. We also worked in Burley. It was bad there, we couldn’t walk through town.” He says matter of fact. I want to look away but again he is looking me square in the eyes. I cannot tell what he is thinking or feeling.
My stomach sickens as I recall that just last month my son witnessed a Japanese American being harassed by an old white woman in a truck stop in Burley.
Finally, I say, “I wish I could say things are better now, but unfortunately, I can’t.”
We continue to look each other in the eye.
Gratefully, Rich starts asking George about his farm. They raise onions, sugar beets and barley. We find out that his son is running it now. George gets to “get in the way” he says chuckling. His wife quietly eats this entire time. Once in a while catching my eye and smiles.
We finish our bento and wish each other a good day. On the way home we figure George is 88 years old. The rest of the evening George fills my thoughts.
What do I do with all that I know? What do I do with what I have been told? Is my enigmatic mood the result of these stories rolling around in my head?