The Bon Odori festival celebrates the culture and traditions of Japan

East meets West … port.

Observing the ancient tradition of honoring the spirits of ancestors, the Japan Society of Fairfield County hosted the 20th annual Bon Odori Festival on Saturday in Jesup Green.

Two taiko percussion groups from New York and New Jersey brought infectious beats, delicate melodies and a party spirit to Westport through music and dance. Other activities that are part of the 1,500-year-old celebration traditions included origami and games.

“Traditionally, people return to the villages where their ancestors were born and celebrate their ancestors,” said Vernon Beck, president of the JSFC.


“In Japan, these ceremonies can last for days,” he said. “This is the ninth year at Jesup Green,” Beck said, “and about the 20th year we had a Bon Odori festival.”

“I have lived in Japan for many, many years,” said Harold Gross from Westport, who comes to the festival every year. “I went to school there where I have a connection with the culture.”

Stationed in Japan about 50 years ago in the military, Don Sanders of Westport has never ceased to love him.

“I go there every year,” he says. “I know Tokyo better than most Japanese people.”

Sanders said he really enjoyed coming to the festival on the Green. “I love taiko,” he said. “I love dancing no matter what they sing. I’m just a total Japan-phile. I can’t get enough of it.”

“Society is generally made up of people who are interested in Japanese culture,” said Nancy Beck, a third-generation Japanese American who traveled to Japan for the first time recently.

“We love to share Japanese culture,” she said of the JSFC, which has around 100 families from across the region.

“I spent eight years in Japan and spent eight years learning the culture,” said First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who was a press correspondent for CBS.

“Westport is a very international community, as many of you know,” he said, and is home to many families of Japanese descent.

“The Japan Society has been a valuable representative of Japanese culture in this country and I am delighted to see it continue and prosper,” said Joseloff.

The festival was also attended by Jun Ishihara, the cultural attaché for the Japanese Consulate in New York, which also serves Fairfield County.

“It is with pleasure that I extend my best wishes to Westport for such a wonderful festival,” he said, noting that the cityscape reminds him of the countryside where he grew up in Japan.


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