To quote the late great Bill King (radio announcer for the Warriors, Raiders, and A’s), “Holy Toledo!!”.
I am writing this on Monday, July 10th, a day after our Obon ended, and I am still amazed at what I saw this past weekend. This year’s Obon was an unqualified success on so many levels. After having around 60%-70% of our food and game booths open last year, we had all of our booths back this year. For our Obon odori, we had over 1600 dancers on Saturday and over 1000 dancers on Sunday, both record highs. We are so lucky to have San Jose Taiko, which was formed at the Betsuin, celebrate its 50th anniversary. It’s always great to have the San Jose Chidori Band play at Obon which they’ve done for over 60 years. And we honored Reiko Iwanaga for being the head instructor for our Obon odori the last 25 years. Reiko is stepping down as the head instructor but fortunately she will continue to dance on the yagura.
Most importantly, we had a true festival of joy. Everywhere I looked I saw people with smiles on their faces as they enjoyed our delicious food, had fun playing games, watched San Jose Taiko as well as college taiko groups, visited our hondo and had discussions with our ministers and minister assistants, and hung out with their family and friends. It was obvious that everyone was so happy to get together with their friends and family at our Obon.
Again, my sincere thanks to Ken Kamei and the Obon Committee for all the planning and preparation that you did. And despite some early concerns about not having enough volunteers, we had many people sign up to help in the last 2 weeks. For all of you who volunteered, thank you, thank you, thank you!!
For me, one of the fun parts of Obon is meeting new people. I made a new acquaintance, Chris Mildebrandt, helping with construction on the morning of July 4th. I learned that Chris and his wife Ying are not members of the temple but live nearby and wanted to be good neighbors and volunteer. They also helped with chicken cleaning, tempura prep, beef skewering, and making California rolls. Wow! They weren’t the only Japantown neighbors who helped as I met several others, including Michelle and Branden who helped cook and prepare the sushi rice. It was amazing to have people in our nearby community help us with Obon.
Some of the “regulars” who usually volunteer came from long distances to help us out too. Jon Ohnoki who lives near Placer helps with sushi rice prep and Yooko Araki from Sacramento helps with California rolls and dances in our odori. And Stan and Karen Mason came all the way from Hilo, Hawaii, to help with sushi rice prep and work in the nigiri booth. So, it’s not just Sangha members who live in the Bay Area who help us out but people who live outside the Bay Area and others who are not even Buddhist.
Of course, I saw many friends and relatives, some who I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was great to see Keith Watanabe who I’ve known for over 55 years from our time doing judo as kids. I was happy to run into Jimmy, Isao & Tobo who I met around 30 years ago when we were all in the same golf club. I was surprised to see Ashlyn, the daughter of one of my college roommates, sit and play at the bingo table I was supervising. I got to see Lizzie Jones and her friends having so much fun at bingo as they groaned when their numbers didn’t come up and loudly cheered when one of them won. And I saw Chris, whose late grandfather Sus was a dear friend that I bowled and golfed with. I am so happy I was able see them as well as many other people at the festival. You never know who you’re going to encounter at Obon.
These are just a few examples of how our Obon helps to bring the community together. If you were at Obon, you could see the joy in people as they encountered friends and were able to “talk stories”, as the Hawaiians say. I believe we treasure these moments more than we did before because of the isolation we had to endure during the pandemic, and we should.
For those of you who volunteered at Obon, thank you so much and I hope you had a good time too. I hope those of you who were not able to attend are able to participate next year. Yes, of course we’d like you to volunteer but we also want you to come, make new friends, see old friends, and have a good time. On behalf of the Betsuin, thank you so, so much!!