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August 5, 2009 > Obon festival honors the departed

Obon festival honors the departed

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By Courtesy of M. E. Matsuoka

Celebrating the memories of beloved ancestors and honoring them is part of the Japanese Buddhist festival known as Obon. It is believed that each year during this time, spirits of ancestors return to visit their relatives. But you won't find participants dwelling on sadness; rather Obon is celebrated as a reminder of the gratefulness one should feel toward one's ancestors.

According to Mayumi Stroy, Religion chairperson of the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church, "Obon teaches us to focus on the true meaning of life, rather than feelings of constant sorrow over death or loss. We believe through Buddhist teachings that thankfulness and appreciation lead to happiness."

This year's, Obon Festival will be held at the Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church in Union City on Saturday, August 8 and Sunday, August 9. There are 300 member families of this church who practice the type of Buddhism known as "Jodo Shinshu."

Although customs vary from region to region, traditionally, lanterns are hung in front of homes to guide the spirits of the deceased. Dances called "Obon Odori" are performed and loved ones' graves visited. Food offerings may be made at personal home altars or at temples. As Obon ends, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas, to guide spirits back to their world.

At the church, on Saturday evening, the local Chidori Band will play traditional Japanese music as well as accompany the Obon Odori dancing. Singers also perform Japanese songs. Church leader, Reverend Shoyo Taniguchi starts off the festival by blessing celebrants and temple goers as the Onami Taiko drum procession leads the way outside.

There's a festive atmosphere with delicious foods, symbolic decorations, lanterns waving in the breeze, women wearing special light summer kimonos called yukatas and children dressed in colorful costumes.

The history and significance of Obon is explained by the church's spiritual leader, Reverend Shoyo Taniguchi. "The Obon festival, originated in India, passed to China and eventually to Korea and Japan. We learn from the story of Mogallana, one of the two top disciples to Buddha, about how he dealt with the death of his beloved mother. This is the universal essence of Obon, wherein people from varying backgrounds and locales are able to express sorrow at the loss of their own loved ones who have given so much. It is also the time to look at our own way of living here and now."

On Sunday morning, August 9, there will be a brief service at 10 a.m. followed by a light lunch. The service is casual and inviting to visitors, not overtly religious.

Reverend Taniguchi concludes, "Obon reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters. It is a call for peace and righteousness, transcending the boundaries that divide us and cause so much sorrow. Let us carry the universal message and vision of the Obon with us, lighting up our lives and our communities with the inclusive sense of our common destiny."

The community is invited to experience the wonder of Obon and participate in this joyous and meaningful gathering.

Obon Festival

Saturday, August 8
5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Food sales: 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Obon Dancing: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Menu includes: curry rice, udon, gyoza, spam rice balls (onigiri), hot dogs, teriyaki hamburgers, cabbage salad, and green tea ice-cream.

Sunday, August 9
10 a.m. - 11 a.m.

Southern Alameda County Buddhist Church
32975 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City
Reverend Shoyo Taniguchi (510) 552-9393

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