Palo Alto Buddhist temple to host Obon Festival | August 2, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 2, 2013

Palo Alto Buddhist temple to host Obon Festival

Japanese celebration will include food, dance and demonstrations

by Karishma Mehrotra

Eimi Okano and Jeanette Arakawa and hundreds of other volunteers are busily working at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple on Louis Road, putting together the final touches on food and decorations. Yesterday, the focus was on udon and soba noodles. Soon, they will be preparing their specialty: teriyaki chicken.

The work is part of the build-up toward this weekend's Obon Festival, a Japanese celebration honoring ancestors, at the temple on Saturday, Aug. 3, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 4, from noon to 9:30 p.m.

Okano, who is Awakawa's co-chair for the festival's cultural programming, said the festival has historically been a community event, and each area celebrates in its own unique way. In Palo Alto that means the signature Obon Odori dance, a dance that the temple's new reverend, Dean Koyama, said is the core of the festival.

"It came to be an event where those of us who are living will think about who we are grateful to and will remember the people that passed before us," Okano said. "So the dance also will commemorate lives past and appreciate the moment we are here."

The dance will be Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

It was originally called the "Good Harvest Dance" when dancers would call ancestral spirits to help with the harvest.

Arakawa said that the dance is an expression of gratitude towards family and ancestors who have shaped each individual's character. Circles in the dance symbolize giving life to memories, where one is connected to the living and the dead, she said.

The dance won't be the only spectacle this weekend. On Saturday, a reading, question-and-answer session and book signing will feature three authors: Susan Austin, author of the children's book "The Bamboo Garden"; Tom Graves, author and photographer for the portraits and stories in "Twice Heroes: America's Nisei Veterans of WWII and Korea"; and Naomi Hirahara, author of her detective series' latest installment "Strawberry Yellow: A Mas Arai Mystery."

The festival will also feature exhibits focused on bonsai (the art of growing miniature plants), suiseki (spiritual art with natural stones), ikebana (flower arrangements) and various other forms of art.

Both days will feature Taiko drums, Buddhist services by the new reverend, samurai and martial-arts demonstrations and numerous other musical performances.

"It gives us an opportunity to self-reflect," Arakawa said. "The way you learn about your religion is applying to your everyday life. We get a lot of opportunities to reflect on what we're doing and our actions."

Editorial Intern Karishma Mehrotra can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Obon Fan
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 1, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Please see the following for the festival's full schedule of events: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by LaurieN
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:36 am

Louis Rd is pretty long. For those who haven't been to the temple before, here's the address:

2751 Louis Road, Palo Alto,CA 94303

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:56 am

Sounds like a fun event. Thanks for posting this article.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2013 at 9:56 pm

The Buddhist Temple is near Oregon Expressway on Louis Rd. It's around the corner from Ohlone Elementary.

If you're looking to boost your child's self-esteem, it's not too difficult to win a goldfish at the ping-pong in cup game booth.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 4, 2013 at 2:59 am

We checked out this festival tonight. It was fun and cute. Nice bonzai trees which I always love to see. Quaint booths with games. Trinkets and things to buy at low prices. It was a fun stroll and there is quite a bit of food too. Also a live band was playing some Credence Clearwater Revival when we got there - but not sure how that relates to Buddhism, but it was fun. I recommend it for your karma! ;-)