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Community celebrates Obon Festival ahead of Japantown revitalization

Posted at 10:32 PM, Jul 10, 2024

SALT LAKE CITY — Community members in Salt Lake City’s Japantown are gearing up for this weekend’s Obon Festival ahead of plans to revitalize the downtown area including Japantown.

For Sandy resident Furubayashi Iwasaki, it's an opportunity to show the community the beauty of Obon dance after 50 years of teaching it.

"It makes me happiest. It’s always the happiest time of the year for me,” she said. “I’ve been dancing as long as I’ve been walking."

"Obon dancing is the dance of joy,” explains Iwasaki. “It’s a time that we reflect and remember our ancestors and all those who came before us and what we owe to them because we wouldn’t be here without them."

Dancing runs in her blood.

"My mother was the original Obon dance instructor here in Salt Lake from 1948 till 2016 when she passed away at the age of 95," she said.

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

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

This year's festival comes at a time where the city is working on plans to revitalize downtown by creating a sports, culture and entertainment district around the Delta Center, which includes Japantown. After most of the area was wiped away when the Salt Palace was constructed, there has been an active push to help preserve what is left of the area, and help it grow.

"I think people when they 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, that there could be even more and understand too that there was so much here in the past,” said Eng. “So its that balance of understanding the past and coming and being exciting and wanting to be involved in the community and wanted to advocate for Japantown."

Salt Lake City council member Darin Mano, continued to reiterate at Tuesday night's meeting how important it is to make sure Japantown is part of the conversation.

"I know we didn’t get everything we wanted in this participation agreement, but please stay at the table. We have a lot more work to be done and many more opportunities to fight for Japantown," said Mano. "And I hope that you feel as encouraged as I do tonight about what we were able to accomplish in this and the future."

"I just hope that they can preserve what we have and also build on it and I know they probably can’t bring back all the shops and everything and restaurants and everything we used to have, but if they can bring back even part of that, that would be nice,” added Iwasaki.