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50+ Years in the Dance Circle: Marilyn Ozawa of Mountain View

Editor’s note: With the return to Obon festivals throughout the BCA this summer, the Wheel of Dharma also takes pride in welcoming back Dr. Wynn Kiyama’s series, “50+ Years in the Dance Circle.” The series pays tribute to the extraordinary dance instructors who taught Bon Odori at BCA temples for 50 or more years. This month’s article is a tribute to Marilyn Ozawa (Kanyoshi Sanjo) of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple.


 

 

Marilyn Ozawa (Kanyoshi Sanjo) studied Japanese classical dance with Miharu Bando (Kanya Sanjo V), performed in San Francisco and Los Angeles, choreographed numerous dances, and taught Bon Odori at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple for over five decades. 

 

Nisei couple Yoshio Nishimoto and Miko Shinta were married in San Jose, California, and their first child, Audrey, was born in 1941. During World War II, the young family was incarcerated at the Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming.

 

Upon returning to California after the war, Yoshio and Miko had two more children — Marilyn, who was born in 1946, and Bryan, born in 1956 — and established the Nishimoto Nursery in Mountain View, specializing in chrysanthemums and roses. The family lived on the same plot of land as the nursery, and Marilyn, when not playing with her paper dolls or watching television, enjoyed exploring the family’s barn, fields, and orchards. 

 

Following the example of a younger cousin, Marilyn began taking Japanese classical dance lessons at the age of 9 with Miharu Bando (Kanya Sanjo V), who lived in Los Angeles but traveled throughout California to teach. Marilyn performed in recitals at the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center and in Los Angeles, where she also participated in the Nisei Week Ondo Parade. She received her professional dance name, Kan-yoshi Sanjo, in 1962.

 

In 1969, Marilyn met Irving Ozawa at a Japanese American dance at the Bold Knight restaurant in Sunnyvale. The two were married at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple in 1971 and lived in Santa Clara, where Irving worked as an accountant and Marilyn was a special education teacher. They moved to San Jose in 1973, Fremont in 1978, and Mountain View in 2012, and had three children — Ashley, born in 1974, Amber, born in 1977, and Austin, born in 1982. 

 

The Nishimoto family was active at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple for generations. Yoshio served as the temple president in the early 1970s and Marilyn participated in Sunday School and YBA, played piano for services on occasion, and led Bon Odori at the temple beginning in 1971. 


She retained some of the dances taught by the previous instructor Kimiko Fujimoto Yamakoshi, and choreographed “Arigato Ondo,” “Hanabare Kappore,” “Kawachi Otoko Bushi,” and “Ueomuuite Arukou,” all of which have become temple favorites. 

 

At the temple’s Obon, you would find Marilyn working in the goldfish game and chicken teriyaki booths, changing into her Sanjo yukata, and joyfully leading the community in the dance circle. After 53 years of teaching Bon Odori at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple, Marilyn retired following last summer’s Obon. 

 

To view a full list of 50+ teachers, follow the link: www.bit.ly/fiftyplusyears. If you have an additional dance instructor for the BCA Music Committee to consider, please email Wynn at wynnkiyama@gmail.com.

 

Dr. Wynn Kiyama lives in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, with his family and is a member of the BCA and the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii. He is currently working on a history of Bon Odori in the continental United States.


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