Community members celebrate Obon Festival ahead of Japantown’s revitalization

Community members celebrate Obon Festival ahead of Japantown’s revitalization

SALT LAKE CITY — Community members in Salt Lake City’s Japantown neighborhood are preparing for this weekend’s Obon Festival ahead of plans to revitalize the downtown area, which includes Japantown.

For Sandy resident Furubayashi Iwasaki, it’s an opportunity to show the community the beauty of the Obon dance, which he has been teaching for 50 years.

“That’s what makes me the happiest. It’s always the happiest time of year for me,” she said. “I dance as much as I walk.”

“The Obon dance is a dance of joy,” Iwasaki explains. “It’s a time when we think and remember our ancestors and those who came before us and the debt we owe to them, because without them we wouldn’t be here.”

Dancing is in her blood.

“My mother was the original Obon dance instructor in Salt Lake from 1948 to 2016 and she passed away at the age of 95,” she said.

Iwasaki teaches the Obon dance to anyone who walks through the doors of the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple. They hold sessions in the days leading up to the annual Obon festival, which takes place this Saturday, July 13.

“It’s everything,” Marisa Eng said. “It’s my biggest connection to my culture. Being Japanese American, having this community and being able to celebrate it and share it with others means so much.”

This year’s festival comes as the city is working on plans to revitalize the city center by creating a sports, culture and entertainment district around the Delta Center, which will include Japantown. After much of the area was erased when the Salt Palace was built, there has been an active effort to preserve the rest of the area and help it grow.

“When people come and experience Obon, they see how much joy, how much community, how much culture there is, and it helps them imagine what could be, what more could be, and understand that so much has happened here in the past,” Eng said. “So it’s a balance between understanding the past and wanting to come, be excited and involved in the community, and advocate for Japantown.”

Salt Lake City Councilman Darin Mano reiterated at Tuesday night’s meeting how important it is to ensure Japantown is part of the conversation.

“I know we didn’t get everything we wanted in this accession agreement, but please stay at the table. We have so much more work to do and so many more opportunities to fight for Japantown,” Mano said. “And I hope you’re as encouraged as I am tonight about this and what we’ve accomplished in the future.”

“I hope they can preserve what we have and build on that. I know they probably can’t bring back all the shops and everything and restaurants and everything that we used to have, but if they can bring back even a little bit of that, that would be great,” Iwasaki added.