PACOIMA — Each year, the San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Obon Festival welcomes thousands of visitors from across Southern California to kick off the summer season.
Sunny skies bring warm nights, cool drinks, tasty treats, and hundreds of dancers moving to the rhythms of traditional Japanese music. In the spirit of “ichi-go ichi-e,” the Obon Festival will once again be a “once in a lifetime” event for family, friends, and neighbors of the San Fernando Valley.
Celebrating 94 years of community, this year’s Obon Festival will be held on Saturday, June 24, from 4:30 to 10 p.m. (dancing at 7 p.m.) and Sunday, June 25, from 4:30 to 9 p.m. (dancing at 6:30 p.m.) at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, 12953 Branford St. in Pacoima, where the 5 and 170 freeways meet.
Create new memories amid the timeless tradition that began centuries ago as a Buddhist custom to remember and express gratitude to deceased loved ones. Today, the Obon Festival has become the Valley’s premier showcase of Japanese American cultural activities and ethnic foods.
Start your afternoon at one of the food booths serving chicken teriyaki, sushi, Spam musubi, beef teriyaki, udon, somen, and more. Quench your thirst with strawberry lemonade, snow cones or mugicha, or stop by the Beer Garden for a little debate: Kirin or Bud Light?
Try your luck at the lively bingo game in the air-conditioned Sakaguchi Hall, which also hosts the temple bookstore and Japanese Flea Market. From beautiful kimono and yukata to traditional toys, dishes, and knick-knacks, available items move fast, so visit early.
New for 2017, the festival will feature demonstrations in the dojo and gym by the talented SFVJACC clubs, including judo, ping pong, ukulele, hula, line dancing, country western, karaoke, qi gong, Japanese Language Institute, ondo, and SFV Taiko. Additional displays include bonsai, calligraphy, and Japanese dolls. Return to the festival court to enter the $1,000 raffle and play the Fishing Derby, Goldfish Game, Dough Ball, and Coin Toss.
Before you know it, the taiko drums herald the opening of the “Festival of Joy,” and everyone gathers around the yagura for the centerpiece of the Obon Festival. Whether you dress in traditional Japanese attire or your best beachwear, everyone is encouraged to “just dance.” As the sun sets and the festival lights begin to shine, celebrate the paths that brought everyone to the present moment with pure, selfless joy and gratitude.