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Turning Japanese

If you think cultural diversity in South Florida consists of sipping a café con leche and listening to a Gloria Estefan tune, think again.

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens' annual Bon Festival in Delray Beach is a traditional celebration that draws thousands of people every year. Bon signifies a time when the spirits of deceased family members are believed to return for a brief visit to the world of the living. Morikami hosts four festivals a year, each in a different season and focusing on a different Japanese tradition. Bon is the shortest of the four. "Even though it is associated with a Buddhist ritual, it has a universal appeal," explains Rose Allen, director of marketing for the Morikami. "In fact a lot of people who are not Japanese have made a tradition of coming to the festival to honor their loved ones." Allen goes on to explain that, because of our somber, detached way of dealing with death, nothing quite like Bon exists in American culture. "Bon is as festive as it is solemn. If we had to translate it to American culture, we could say it has elements of Halloween, Mardi Gras, and a county fair."

Carnivalgoers can play games, visit the museum, make handicrafts, listen to ghost stories, and eat traditional dishes. Besides the typical carnival games, the event features Japanese-style contests such as a goldfish scoop; if you win, you take home your slippery, newfound friend. Japanese dancing and taiko drumming performances demonstrate Japanese fine arts.

The festival culminates in Toro Nagashi, a practice that includes placement of more than 200 elaborately decorated lanterns and boats on a barge in the middle of a pond to represent families sending their loved ones to the afterlife.

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Mia Leonin

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