Ondo participants at last year’s festival. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)
NORWALK — A tradition can be so ingrained and “ancient” that hardly anyone remembers when or why it began. And what could be even more important is to realize that what has become a tradition was often started by one person with an idea. This was how the Cultural Festival and Ondo had its beginning 53 years ago.
In 1963, Mary Uwate, PTA president, thought it would be a good and fun way to end the Japanese School session with a “get-together” type party with food and games for the students. The PTA parents agreed.
The fathers nailed together the wood-framed booths, and the mothers cooked up beef and chicken teriyaki, and made sushi. Kiddy rides were rented for the small children and games were brought in for the older students. Traditional ondo dances closed the evening for the parents, children, friends, and neighbors of the Norwalk Japanese community.
The festivities of that day came to an exciting end when a new car donated by Tak Murata was won by Sumie Kawaguchi and her daughter. The hard work and effort put into the “get-together” was so successful that the parents decided to have another party the next year.
In the following years other clubs joined the summer festival, eventually involving the entire Community Center. Now, 53 years later, the basic tenets from the first festival still apply – be family-friendly, have good food, and a good time.
You are invited to come and taste the festival’s culinary delights of teriyaki beef and chicken, yakisoba, sushi, udon, orange chicken, barbecue pork chops. Be sure to enjoy the old-time favorites of corn on the cob, char siu bao, chili rice, Spam musubi, Imagawayaki, chichi dango, Okinawan dango, and more.
You can test your skills on the golf putting green and enjoy basketball free throws, baseball pitching, goldfish toss, and the cannonball air blaster. Be sure to check out the children’s games with their great prizes.
There will be entertainment areas both indoors and outside. Watch the intense concentration of the archery, judo, karate, and kendo demonstrations. Experience the artistry and serenity of ikebana. Sit back and listen to songs sung by Kelsey Kwong. Relax with music and dance from Hawaii by E Mele Hana and Na Ipo Hula, Hawaiian Delites, Na Wahine ‘O Kawena, and Kamaki Keawe and Friends.
Are you a karaoke fan? Bring your CD and join in the “open mic” karaoke session. Bargain hunters may find “treasures” at the White Elephant Boutique. Bingo lovers pick out their lucky cards for an evening of friendly games. There’s something here for everyone.
In ancient days, villages extended only as far as the taiko signal drum could be heard. But during this festival, taiko drums are used to signal that the ondo folk dances will soon follow. If you listen closely, you will hear the taiko drums “talk and answer” each other with their dynamic rhythms. You will feel the energy build up with each drummer’s “kiai.” Experience the excitement taiko brings to the listener.
Following taiko, you are invited to join the dance circle to share and celebrate the summer with traditional and new dances. These folk dances are simple with a few basic repetitive steps. “Don’t know the dance?” That’s OK. Just step into the circle and follow the people next to you. The goal is to participate, have fun, and enjoy the moment and the spirit of the dance.
Mark your calendar and save the dates: Saturday, July 23, from 3 to 9 p.m., and Sunday, July 24, from 2 to 8 p.m. Shuttle van service will be available to and from Lampton Elementary School, 14716 Elmcroft Ave. in Norwalk.
Ondo dance practice will take place at the Community Center’s parking lot on Monday and Thursday evenings, until July 21, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Come and celebrate the Cultural Festival and Ondo at Southeast Japanese School and Community Center, 14615 Gridley Rd., Norwalk, CA 90650. For information, call (562) 863-5996 or go online to www.sejscc.org.