Born to Japanese (from Japan) parents, the JA community wasn't a big thing for me growing up. But in the last 15 years or so, as I became more involved in this community through my work at the GVJCI, my involvement with Kizuna, my participation at Koyasan, the JA community has become close to my heart and an important part of who I am today.
Of all the events that go on throughout the year, Obon is probably one of my favorite community events. I didn't grow up going to Obon until one of my high school friends introduced me to it, but it's been an annual thing for me ever since.
The last Obon I attended before this year was in July 2019. I took a friend and we went to Nishi Obon. We got some food, danced, saw friends, took photos in front of the Hondo, walked to Far Bar for wings, and got boba at Milk+T. Afterwards, my friend told me she wanted to get to know the JA community more after seeing how I was involved and how much the community meant to me. I remember feeling proud and happy, that I had someplace I felt like I was connected to. This remains a core summer memory for me. I was moving up to Northern California that fall but I always thought to myself that I'd be back for the Obons in the summer in Little Tokyo. Of course, little did anyone know that there would be none for three years.
This July, I went to my first Obon up here in San Jose. I had heard about this Obon for many years, and it was one of the few things I looked forward to when I moved, but didn't get to experience until this year. I took my husband and his cousin, and even though it was my first time at SJ Obon, the familiarity hit me immediately. The smell of teriyaki on the grill, kids running around with questionable colored dye around their mouths, the sound of homemade games, and people's happy voices. I felt like I was home in a sense. We got some food, played some games, and danced for the full hour to familiar and new songs, struggling to keep up but also having so much fun.
In my three years in San Jose, I joined Yu-Ai Kai's Board of Directors, but my connection to the JA community has been slim, thanks to the pandemic and all events shuttering. The strong JA community I once had back in LA had been reduced to online meetings, Instagram messages, and virtual events, which, while better than nothing, sometimes made me really sad. But with this Obon, I felt like I was back somewhere where I felt like I belonged, somewhere I knew the steps of the dance to, the taste of the food, the language being spoken. I don't think going back to SoCal for every Obon festival is as realistic as I had once dreamed of, but I'm happy I have San Jose to add to my list.
The good thing about NorCal though, is that it's only an hour flight back home. The last weekend of June, I flew down home and got to attend two meaningful events. One was the GFBNEC dinner, where I got to hear GFBNEC's President and CEO Mitch talk about the Redress Movement. Not only did I get to hear a great and educational speech from Mitch, I saw my friends who I hadn't seen in-person in three years or more, and being able to talk about the latest news of the JA community folks, hearing familiar names, and being able to catch up like old times was such a heartwarming experience.
Another event I attended that weekend and something I've missed since I've moved is the GVJCI Matsuri. I attended many as a kid and worked there for several years as a volunteer and staff, so this was something I couldn't wait to get back to. While it wasn't back to its full scale as in years past, this year was a bento pick-up event and I flew down to volunteer. I got to see and talk to people I hadn't seen since I left and the familiarity of knowing everything and everyone, how everything came back so naturally, and how everyone welcomed me back with open arms is one of my best summer memories of this year. On my way out, one of the board members stopped me to say bye and said, "Don't let another three years go by before we see you again." I laughed and said my goodbye but couldn't help but feel giddy that there was still a community down here for me that missed me.
I know my move to NorCal has made me miss out on a lot, especially as the world opens back up again and events come back more in person. But wherever I am, I'm glad I've been able to find small pieces of home, and being able to come back to certain events really makes me appreciate everything more. This summer made me really appreciate the community I have in SoCal and it will always be home to me, but I hope I can grow my community wherever I go.
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