From left: Trish Nicholson, Higashi Obon dance instructor, Calvin Kamimura, Janet Ito, Corey Kamimura, Katey Kamimura and Grant Hashimoto hold recyclable drinking bottles that will be sold at the Higashi Honganji Obon carnival this weekend. Each bottle sells for $3 and includes a drink coupon worth $2. (GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

By AMY HONJIYO, Rafu Contributor

Part of the continuing series “Towards a Sustainable Little Tokyo.”

This year at Higashi Honganji’s 56th Obon there will be a noticeable absence at the food booths; no Styrofoam food containers will be used.

Styrofoam, known as an inexpensive material for food containers, is also a product made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. And because it is not compostable, it typically ends up in our landfills.

Janet Ito, buyer for the temple’s supplies and coordinator of the Lumbini Child Care lunch program, has “done her homework” researching the pricing and quality for a broad array of recyclable and compostable food containers.

A Manto-e lantern and wooden naruko. Higashi board member Ted Oyama recycles the lanterns to create kachi kachi and naruko. (Photo by Amy Honjiyo)

“Yes, it does cost more to use only paper and plastic food containers, but the board members have accepted that Styrofoam is not an Earth-friendly product and recognizes that it is being banned or restricted in many California cities. We have calculated that the cost per serving is a relatively small amount,” said Ito.

Also missing at the Obon will be plastic bags. “To thank those who bring their own reusable bags or buy the offered paper bags, the temple will give tickets to enter a special raffle,” said Ito. The winner will receive a Fitbit activity wristband.

Discontinuing the sales of bottled water is a bigger challenge because of its popularity with customers and its success as a fundraiser. Single-serve plastic water bottles are made from a nonrenewable resource, create a lot of waste, and less than 25 percent of the bottles are recycled. Instead, this year an optional choice of buying recyclable drinking bottles monogrammed with “Higashi Honganji” will be sold for $3. Plus, each bottle will have a drink coupon worth $2.

In addition to working toward zero waste by eliminating the presence of Styrofoam and plastic bags, Sustainable Little Tokyo has made arrangements with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to take all the unsold fruits and vegetables at the close of Obon. Ito appreciates the support of Sustainable Little Tokyo in sharing and researching of sustainable ideas as well as reminding everyone of the mottainai concept; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle plus Respect of the earth and all living things.

Similar to other Little Tokyo events, fundraising sustainability has become a challenge. Local businesses have had more difficult times and have not been able to make as many as donations to the Obons. One of the ways the temple will support fundraising is to offer credit-card transactions for both pre-Obon and same-day gift-card purchases. Board members are also asked to donate for the raffle prizes.

Happyfunsmile returns to perform at the Obon this weekend. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Cultural traditions are the hallmark reasons for the continuing return of guests as well as attracting new faces every year. Lighting of lanterns is a tradition starting long ago in India wherever the Buddha delivered a sermon. As the number of followers increased, the lights came to be called Manto-e, ten thousand lights. Twelve hundred years ago at the Todaiji Temple, a once-a-year ceremony of lighting lanterns in Buddha’s honor began. Now the tradition of Manto-e lanterns is sustained by having lanterns made in memory of relatives and friends that will be hung and lit at a service held at 5:30 p.m. both on Saturday and Sunday.

A newer tradition unique to Higashi Honganji’s Bon Odori is the opening entertainment by happyfunsmile, a performance group that blends Okinawan pop, electric folk songs (ultraminyo), supersweet ballads (enka), festival rhythms and Obon beats.

“Originally the group traveled from New York to perform at our Obon. Now, they live in different states but they still come together for our Obon. They are very popular and draw a big crowd,” said Ito.

Also check out the noteworthy recycling efforts of Board member Ted Oyama. His current project has been recycling the wood from the old Manto-e lanterns and making naruko, Japanese wooden clappers used during Obon dancing.

Higashi Honganji’s sustainability efforts have taken into consideration the environment, fundraising goals and the cultural traditions as well as creating new traditions. It will definitely be worthwhile to stop by, eat, dance and support their temple. And, as the Higashi Honganji Obon flyer states, “Go green at Obon by bringing your own reusable bag and water bottle.”

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, 505 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, will hold its Obon on Saturday and Sunday, July 25-26, from 1 to 9 p.m. Performances begin at 1 p.m. and continue throughout the day. Schedule includes: Obon service — 11 a.m. on Sunday; Manto-e services — 5:30 p.m. both days; happyfunsmile — 6 p.m. both days; Bon Odori – 6:30 p.m. both days. For more information, call (213) 626-4200 or visit or

Amy Honjiyo is a member of the Sustainable Little Tokyo community relations committee and a member of Zenshuji Soto Mission.

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  1. Another way to be “green” at Obon would be to take the Metro Gold Line to the Little Tokyo Station and walk to the temple (if you don’t already live within walking distance).