Palo Alto temple holds Obon Festival this weekend

Japanese culture, cuisine and arts will be featured at annual festival

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

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by local resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 29, 2010 at 10:15 am

I see there is a list of events online here:
Web Link Obon Schedule.pdf

I was hoping to see more martial arts demonstrations offered. No karate or judo? Great to see kendo and aikido will be represented. I know kyudo and naginata, iaido and more are also practiced around here. Sumo would be cool, too, but I guess maybe there just aren't enough people around here doing it. But at least we should expect to see something as basic as karate there, shouldn't we? Oh well. Hopefully next time.

Like this comment
Posted by middleaged
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

This festival is great. A real nice community feel.

Like this comment
Posted by diversity
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I'm glad that Palo Alto still tolerates a little bit of diversity.

Like this comment
Posted by Perspectivec
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 30, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Been one of my favorite activities to go to for many years. Amazing, amazing in all ways.

to d: what a foolish comment. how old are you?

Like this comment
Posted by Lovinobon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 5, 2012 at 4:31 am

Local Resident, the Festival is a two day event. If you look at the program schedule you linked to, you will see that Judo and Karate are prominently scheduled for Sunday at 2pm and 4:30 pm respectively. Hopefully you can make it this time.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Peek inside the fine-dining Selby's, opening in Redwood City this summer
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 4,055 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 7 comments | 1,194 views

Premarital and Couples: "You're Not Listening to Me!" may mean "I don't feel heard."
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,060 views

All those things our city does – and doesn’t -- do
By Diana Diamond | 6 comments | 996 views

Migraines and motherhood
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 590 views


Vote now!

It's time once again to cast your vote for the best places to eat, drink, shop and spend time in Palo Alto. Voting is open now through May 27. Watch for the results of our 2019 Best Of contest on Friday, July 19.