The Palo Alto Buddhist Temple will celebrate the Obon Festival for the 62nd time this weekend.
"Obon is a Buddhist and Japanese tradition; a once-a-year festival to honor our ancestors in a very positive and festive manner," event co-chair Shiz Kobara said.
"It's an opportunity for celebration, food and dance. It's about reaching out to the Japanese community and beyond it."
Events begin Saturday (July 31) at 5 p.m. with a musical performance by members of the temple. A Buddhist service, conducted by resident minister Rev. William T. Masuda, follows. After more music and dancing, the evening concludes with a fencing demonstration at 9 p.m.
On Sunday (Aug. 1), the festivities begin at noon and end with the Bon Odori dance at 7:30 p.m. Traditional Japanese fare, martial-arts demonstrations and an outdoor bonsai exhibit will also be featured. Guest speaker Rev. Kurt Rye will lecture both days on Shin Buddhism.
Early immigrants played a crucial role in bringing the long-running Obon festival to the Bay Area.
"Wherever Japanese Buddhists settled, they created a temple," Kobara said. Those temples belong to the organization Buddhist Churches in America. Most of its members host Obon celebrations, he said.
"They used to celebrate it a lot in Japan, but not anymore," he said. In America, Obon plays an important part in keeping traditions alive in regions where Buddhist populations are small, he added.
Kobara remembers going to the festival as a young boy. He found the celebrations "fun because they're different. Everything's decorated and traditional." Parents celebrate Obon each year for their children but also for themselves.
"It reminds them of being young," he said.
Kobara's favorite event in childhood was the Bon Odori dance "when everyone got together and participated."
The custom varies regionally, but typically performers dance around the "yagura," a high wooden scaffold built for the festival. Bon Odori is still popular. Even now, Kobara said, "You come, and it's packed."
The dances are homage to the ancestors. Taiko drums are played to "wake up the spirits. That's why they're so loud and thunderous."
Other forms of traditional Japanese music, including those played on bamboo flutes and harps, are equally significant and will be played this year. Saturday's schedule also features a Japanese folk performance.
The festival organizers try to honor all aspects of Japanese culture, Kobara said, noting the festival has "evolved and become more modern."
"One year," he laughed, "we even showed anime." They stopped because it's readily available. "People can just rent a DVD," he added.
The temple is located at 2751 Louis Road, Palo Alto. More information is available by calling 650-856-0123 or at www.pabt.org.