Remembering one's ancestors might never be more fun than during the Buddhist Bon Odori dance celebration in Seattle. Hundreds of folk dancers, flower arrangements...

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Name: Pauline Sakuma


Volunteer for the Bon Odori festival, president of the board of directors of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple.

How long she’s been involved:
Taken part in the festival for about 57 years. The Seattle festival is in its 72nd year.

What she does: Helps cook more than 900 pounds of rice during the two-day festival

Her story: Remembering one’s ancestors might never be more fun than during the Buddhist Bon Odori dance celebration in Seattle.

Hundreds of folk dancers, flower arrangements, Japanese music, a large taiko drum and quite a mountain of rice are part of the festival, according to Pauline Sakuma.

Sakuma relates the story of the Bon Odori: A disciple of Buddha, Mokuren, saw his mother in a realm of suffering during one of his deep meditations. When Mokuren asked the Buddha how the mother could be freed from her anguish, the Buddha advised Mokuren to join in an annual rainy-season retreat with a group of monks and to give an offering. After doing so, Mokuren saw his mother released from her misery and he danced for joy. This dance became recognized as the original Bon Odori.

Sakuma volunteers for the festival each year to make sure the tradition continues and to give non-Japanese an opportunity to explore her culture.

She has cooked rice for the festival’s chicken teriyaki and beef bowls in the basement of the church for the past 10 years.

“It’s very hot, very heavy work,” said Sakuma. “But, it’s one of the cleaner jobs I’ve had, you don’t get dirty or sticky. With teriyaki sauce, you get it all over the place.”

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Obon Festival for Tacoma Buddhist Temple: Dancing and food, July 11, 5-9 p.m., 1717 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma; free. 253-627-1417 or

White River Buddhist Temple Obon Festival: Dancing, food and taiko drumming, July 24, 4-9:30 p.m., 3625 Auburn Way N. Auburn; free. 253-833-1442 or

She begins loading five 25-cup rice cookers at 2 p.m. and doesn’t stop rice mass production until after 9.

Born in the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho during World War II internment, she came to Seattle as a 4-year-old when her parents returned. She has been a part of the Buddhist church ever since.

Her fondest memories of the festival include her dances as a child.

“In those days, we used to wear silk kimonos and that was the only time of the year that I could wear my silk kimono,” said Sakuma. “And grandma would always tie me up in that little getup and she would always be so proud of how I looked and how I danced — and grandpa, too.”

Since the 1950s when Seafair became involved with the festival, the celebration has expanded.

Now 61, Sakuma still enjoys seeing children dance during Bon Odori.

“Children, the little ones that are dancing, are important because that means that our culture continues on,” said Sakuma.

Her summer event:

Seattle Bon Odori Festival,
July 17-18, with temple tours and cultural displays; food available at 4 p.m., dancing 6-10 p.m. Saturday, 6-9 p.m. Sunday, in front of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple, 1427 S. Main St., Seattle, free admission. For more information: 206-329-0800 or

— Jennifer Lloyd, staff reporter