Upcoming Obon festivals

By Lia Dun, 16, Marshall HS
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Taiko drummers at the Obon festival.

Photo by Lia Dun, 16, Marshall HS

I’ve always looked forward to the Obon festivals at my temple. Obon, the Japanese celebration of the dead, takes place every summer at all the Japanese Buddhist temples in Los Angeles. Each temple sets up a carnival in its parking lot with booths selling anything from sushi to funnel cake.  Admission is free.

This year, I visited the Obon in the San Fernando Valley and loved it. Little girls in kimonos ran around chasing each other with squirt guns, and the teenagers working at the chow mein booth cheered whenever somebody bought food from them. There were lots of games to play, too. I saw a ring toss booth, a fishing (for paper fish) booth, and a knock-the-bottles-over-with-a-ball booth. Inside, people played bingo, and in another room, they sold bonsai trees. Outside, a West L.A. taiko class played Japanese drums. The drums had a deep beat that made the ground vibrate, and they made me forget everything around me. The best part of the festival, though, was that every single member of the temple seemed to have shown up, and everyone was having fun.

The food was also excellent. My favorite was the cold somen (thin rice noodles in iced soup) for $3. It was hot outside, and the cold noodles refreshed me. For desert, I bought Okinawa dango, a Japanese donut hole covered in sugar. The carnival also had udon (thick noodles in soup), chili rice, chili dogs, chicken and beef teriyaki, a bake sale, chow mein, deep fried wontons (dumplings), sushi and snow cones.

At 7 p.m., the Obon dancing started. Everyone congregated toward the center of the carnival around a platform with four taiko drums on it. People stood on the chalk circles drawn around the platform, music played and they began to dance. Each dance consisted of a series of repeated movements as the dancers made their way around the circles. The songs all had a different theme. The first song, Sakura Ondo, paid tribute to cherry blossoms, while another celebrated the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. I’m not sure what the theme of my favorite dance, the One-plus-one was, but I enjoyed it because it involved a lot of skipping and twirling around in circles.

When I left at 8, everyone was still dancing, and I was disappointed to leave. The Obon festival is a wonderful chance to experience Japanese culture, and I hope everyone in Los Angeles makes time to go.