“It’s an extension of the peace movement we began at our restaurant and every August we’d invite people to the restaurant to take part in the Buddhist chant -- heart sutra to pray for the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and most recently the victims of the Japanese earthquake in Fikoshima,” said Yamamoto, who grew up in Yokohama, moved to Hiroshima when she was ten years old and made her way to the United States to study design at Pratt Institute in 1981.
Eventually, she moved with her husband, a sculptor, and their family to New Paltz more than ten years ago.
One of their customers was Livia and Bill Vanaver of the renowned Vanaver Caravan, which is a dance and music troupe of all ages that has toured around the world and around the region, with an emphasis on embracing the world’s diverse cultures, musical and dance traditions -- inspiring peace through dance and movement.
“She asked me if I knew ‘Tanko Bushi,’ which is a very traditional Japanese folk song -- not a song I’d ever expect a non-Japanese person to ever have heard of,” recalled Yamamoto. “She sang the entire thing for me in Japanese and even had some movements choreographed to it. It was so thrilling.”
That encounter inspired Yamamoto to think about broadening her casual Bon Odori observation in the restaurant to a community-wide celebration of dance and song and peace.
“It took some time, but once Livia and Bill committed to performing, I knew we had the beginning of something very special.”
Yamamoto then teamed up with Unison Arts and Learning Center, with the new director being Carol Robins, a friend of Yamamoto’s, and someone who, along with her husband and two daughters, lived in Japan for many years and speaks the language fluently and has a great love of the Japanese culture.
“She was an amazing help to me and just a wonderful person,” Yamamoto said. Now with the support of Unison and the Vanaver Caravan, Yamamoto received enthusiastic approval from the New Paltz Village Board to host the event, teamed up with the village’s Sister City Committee that has, for more than ten years been visiting back and forth with their sister city in Japan.
Many local sponsors signed on, like Kiss My Face, PDQ Printing, Earthgoods, Trilogy Printing, The Falcon, Rhinebeck Artists’ Shop, as well as commitments from some heavy hitters in the world of martial arts, as well as the revered Buddhist nun Jody Hojin Kimmel, from Mount Tremper’s Zen monastery, who will lead the festival goers in the heart sutra chant.
“We only had two months to put this together,” said Yamamoto. “But for the first time, I think it’s going to be great.”
Beginning at 1 p.m., there will be several martial arts demonstrations -- Budo -- in Japanese, which Yamamoto said is “a very important part of Japanese culture.”
“Budo is not about fighting, it’s about learning to center yourself, to find peace in your mind,” she said. “The enemy is yourself, and if you can overcome your ego, then you don’t have to fight anymore.”
To that end, there will be a demonstration by the New Paltz Karate Academy, followed by an aikido demonstration by Aikido of Kripplebush. “They’re a very serious group, impressive to watch,” Yamamoto said.
At 2 p.m. there will be an opening announcement and then greetings from renowned activist March Gallagher talking about the need to close the Indian Point nuclear plant.
That will dovetail right into heart sutra chanting for the victims of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the victims of the Japanese earthquake, first in Japanese and then in English.
At 3 p.m. there will be more “Budo” demonstrations, including one by the New Paltz Judo Club, led by Zach Baum who Yamamoto said “is an amazing judo player and his club has three of the top judo players in all of New York State.”
Three masters of Toko Kyudojo from New York City will demonstrate the dramatic and visually impressive Budo art using bows and arrows that launch more than 90 feet.
Then the music/dance portion gets rocking and rolling at 4 p.m. with performances by Sara Milonvich and Daisy Cutter, as well as Saints of Swing.
The headliner for the festival is The Vanaver Caravan, which will perform several traditional Japanese folk dances and songs, followed by the electrifying Bon Odori traditional drumming and dancing.
“This is the only dance festival in New Paltz and you don’t have to be ‘good,’ you just go out there and have fun and the stage is not one-sided, the performers dance around all sides and the crowd just joins in,” she said.
True to the Bon Odori tradition, there will be many children’s games and crafts, as well as food vendors that include Gomen Kudasai food, Big Cheese, Suruchi and Earthgoods.
When Yamamoto learned that they could not fundraise at the event directly, she and the committee decided to create and sell origami swans and Uchiwa Japanese fan souvenirs which are not only beautiful, but also are used as props for various dances, as well as practical to help cool off.
Anyone interested in volunteering or applying for an exhibitor application or just to learn more, can call Yamamoto at 255-8811 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Already thinking ahead to the next year, Yamamoto said that the New Paltz Bon Odori Festival has been invited to host its celebration at Historic Huguenot Street.