St. Paul and Nagasaki, Japan, have been sister cities since 1955; pretty amazing considering that Nagasaki was flattened by an atomic bomb dropped by the United States only ten years earlier. That relationship takes physical form in the Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden, a truly lovely place that is the setting for possibly the most enchanting moment of the summer.
The Japanese Lantern Festival is an annual celebration modeled on Obon, a brief window of time when ancestral spirits are thought to return to visit their families according to Buddhist and Japanese folk beliefs. The festival culminates in the release of paper lanterns on rivers and even in the ocean to guide the spirits away. Last night, the Japanese Garden glowed with the light of dozens of lanterns floating in the pond against a backdrop of miniature granite cliffs bordering its shore. Beautiful.
The festival offered less lofty pleasures as well in the form of sushi trays and shrimp tempura, origami and haiku booths, and daiko drumming and obon dance performances. Mu Daiko radiated sheer energy with its amazingly choreographed and resonant percussion. It was a hard act to follow, but Minnesota Bon Odori held its own with several dances punctuated by graceful gesturing of hands and arms. In Japan, each neighborhood or town has its own dance with gesturing particular to the way of life in that place. In keeping with the spirit of the dance, the group composed, choreographed, and performed a Minnesota bon odori with gestures evoking canoeing and fishing and, of course, shoveling snow.
Minnesota girls in kimonos, goth kids eating sushi, elderly Japanese women in kimonos giving away their Midwestern connection with their thick oversized spectacles, families crowing the origami table, and people composing haikus about the weather, all very Japanese, all very Minnesotan.