Giant Robot is a store and art gallery in Sawtelle, the traditionally Japanese-American neighborhood on the Westside where I’ve gone to Obon the last couple of years. I’ve been to exhibits at Giant Robot’s gallery before. Every December, they have a post-it show for which dozens of artists (many of whom have exhibited at the gallery or have works available in the store) create art on actual post-it notes. The post-its are then displayed in a wide band around the perimeter of the small gallery; rows and columns are labeled so a given post-it can be pinpointed. The public is invited to view the post-its during a preview event, and then sales begin. People camp out for hours for the chance to buy the post-its they want. Also, there’s now a second drop of post-its on a second weekend.
Isabelle and I caught the end of the preview on the first day of this year’s post-it show, but first, we shared a bowl of Japanese-style dan dan noodles at Killer Noodle. Sawtelle is full of popular restaurants, and Killer Noodle is a relatively new one I had yet to try. Their core concept is two seven-point scales: one for 麻 má (the numbing flavor/sensation of Sichuan peppercorn) and one for 辣 là (spiciness, in this case from cayenne pepper). We got three and three, and it was very tasty, but I’d go for less má next time.
After lunch, we went to the Giant Robot gallery. There were already people parked on the sidewalk, waiting for sales to begin; I couldn’t see how far the line went once it turned the corner. The preview was also packed. We entered a sort of human river that slowly flowed clockwise along the walls. It was hard to take in every post-it, but we spotted a lot that we liked. Here are some of my favorites:
Two weekends ago was the Sawtelle/West LA Obon Festival, hosted by the West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple. I went last year for the first time and returned this year because I’d liked it so much. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist festival for remembering the dead and celebrating with joy and gratitude because of the life they have given us. At the West LA Buddhist Temple, there are countless food stalls and carnival games. The temple itself is also open, and there are displays with many photos documenting the history of the temple in the neighborhood. I don’t know very much about the history of Japanese-American Buddhism, but last year I was struck by how much the structure and activities of temple life resembled those of American churches. (Although I’m pretty sure there was a youth accordion band, and I’m not sure how many churches have those!) I interpreted these similarities as an assimilation strategy, but I should emphasize I know very little about this.
This year, my friends and I arrived in time to snag good seats (on the asphalt) for the taiko performance. I always like watching the drummers’ movements and feeling the drumbeats in my eardrums and my chest. After the taiko, we bought bowls of udon with sliced pork and fish cake and plunked ourselves down on the end of a driveway to wait for the dancing to start. The dancing is my favorite part of the festival. The street is blocked off, and the dancers move in one big circuit following chalk lines drawn on the asphalt. In the middle of the block is a platform/tower called a yagura, where a taiko drummer plays along with the recorded songs.
The minister of the temple delivered a meditation from the yagura, and then the procession of dancers entered in from one end of the street as the first dance began. During each dance, they’re moving forward, but it takes longer than one dance to complete the circuit of the block. The dancers wear beautiful yukata (summer kimono), often with floral patterns, or happi coats representing the different area temples, or just their regular clothes. There are dancers of all ages, from toddlers to the elderly, of all genders, of all races, and it doesn’t matter how well you can do the dances. The announcer encourages anyone to join in. The reason I love the dancing at Obon is because it’s so joyful, everyone is welcome, and it looks like a diverse community and neighborhood coming together to share something on a pretty summer evening. It’s rooted in a specific religious and cultural tradition, but it embraces everyone who comes.
Next year, I’m plotting to rope my friends into going to the dance practices in the weeks leading up to the festival so we can dance too.