Today marks what would have been my parent’s thirty-first wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, they never had the chance to make it this far as my mom passed away fifteen years ago this past spring. But that does not mean their anniversary is something to be forgotten. The marriage was a success that ended in sadness and tragedy. But the four children born from the marriage, me and my three siblings, live on as a testament to what they accomplished together. And so, on this special day, I wish you happy anniversary, dad, and wish you the best as you go forward during this exciting and life-changing time.
It just occurred to me that it was one year ago this week that I gave my two-week notice to my last job (first out of law school) and made the move. Looking back, I am glad I made the switch. Like with anything new, I had some uncertainty prior to the move and knew it would send me down a very different path than the one I was on at the time. But I have since learned a lot; I have joined a company that I genuinely feel is headed in the right direction and enjoy being with the people that I work with. I feel that I am part of a team, which was a huge issue for me with my prior job. And while I recognize that I may have a long way to go in my career in some ways, I am in a much better place than I was last year. I still have a job, for one thing, which, after this past tumultuous year, is worth quite a lot. The year has gone by quickly – that must be a sign that I am doing something right.
I spent a few days earlier this week in San Francisco and for the second time in six months was struck with how much more environmentally friendly of a city it is compared to New York. Sure, New York has its proponents of living a green lifestyle, and it has made strides towards greenliness over the past decade, but San Francisco is noticeably leaps and bounds beyond New York. From my company’s San Francisco office to the Giants/Dodgers game I attended at AT&T Park to the dinner I had in Union Square, San Francisco, its public servants and its citizens are actively doing its part to help the environment. Who knows how much of an impact this will make in the big scheme of things, but such effort is, I believe, a step in the right direction and a model for other urban centers around the country.
Ten years ago this week I was in the neighborhoods of Osaka doing the O-bon odori, the dance performed at the annual Japanese festival of the dead. All across Japan, from the end of July to early August, neighbors and families gather to dance the night away and welcome the souls of their ancestors back for a night of dancing. It’s quite the custom, and one that almost every Japanese has participated in at least once in their lifetime. I had the privilege of spending the summer of 1999 in Osaka and was invited to the local O-bon festival near where we lived at the time. With a few other Americans, I made the journey to the neighborhood park where the festival was held for our debut O-bon Festival. It was comforting to know that hundreds of other parks around Japan were playing host to the same dancing and singing I witnessed that night. I still remember the large circle of fish-shaped lanterns that magically lit up the park that evening. In the center of the lanterns rose a wooden tower about ten feet high, where the equivalent of the mc was to sit and spin the tunes for the night, a mixture of traditional Japanese songs. Most of the crowd came dressed in their yukatas (summer kimonos) and geta (Japanese wooden shoes) and ready to line dance the night away despite the humidity that still hung in the evening air. Of course, like so many other things Japanese, O-bon’s roots relate back to Buddhism and the ritual of honoring one’s ancestors, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone in Japan these days, especially among Japan’s youth, that could explain the true significance of O-bon.
Once the music got going that summer night we quickly realized we were the only ones that didn’t know the steps, but after a few minutes of instruction, we fit right in. Young or old, everyone joined in, making a circle of dancers stepping in synchronization around the yagura, the raised wooden platform that stood in the center of the park. The most famous O-bon song is that of the Coal Miners song, or Tanko Bushi. Even now, ten years later, when I hear the song memorializing the coal workers of Kyushu at Miike Mine, I remember back to that night in Osaka, sweat dripping off my forehead, and the good times I had. I just made a note to myself next summer to find a local O-bon festival to take my daughters to so they can know the joys of O-bon and the Tanko Bushi dance.
More information on O-bon can be found here.