Obon: A Movable Fest From Japan

Unlike most national holidays, Japan's Obon is a movable festival, stretching from late June until an indeterminate date in August. Like most religious observances, Obon has borrowed from the secular. (Christmas cribbed shamelessly from the old pagan Roman celebration of Winter Solstice, not only for tradition but for date; and how much does an overgrown egg-laying rabbit really have to do with the core events of Easter?)

The Rev. Masao Kodani of the Senshin Temple west of USC says, "Like so many other Japanese festivals, Obon is a mixture of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Hindu traditions."

Transplanted in America, moreover--particularly in unceremonious Southern California--Obon has expanded magnanimously to include all manner of fun and games, though all within a context of religious and family significance.

Central to all Obon observances is the bon odori, originally simply a "dance of joy"; then, in America, a chance to don the precious ceremonial kimonos for the dance; now returning to the original bon odori, in which the monk Mogallana, a disciple of Buddha, danced for joy at the release of his mother from hell (or in sheer bliss over enlightenment, as more purist sects maintain).

Whatever the affiliation or belief, whatever the choice of activities, Obon is a time of celebration, perhaps best typified in Southern California by this weekend's gala at the Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 815 East 1st St. in Los Angeles, (213) 680-9130.

Along with feasting (sushis and teriyakis, of course) and dancing (7-9 p.m. tonight; 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday), the temple will present exhibits of Japanese dolls, embroidery, sumie (line drawing), temari (producing stunning patterns by wrapping colored threads around a ball), tea ceremonies, classical dance, aikido and judo. Games, including bingo and raffles, will liven the proceedings on both days (beginning at 4 p.m. today, 3 p.m. Sunday), with proceeds going to the temple.

Other upcoming Obon celebrations, each with its own flavor, include:


Today and Sunday:

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 12371 Braddock Drive, Culver City (213) 391-4351.

Zenshuji Soto Mission (including a special exhibition of swords and swordsmanship), 123 S. Hewitt St., (213) 624-8658.

July 22 and 23:

Higashi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 505 E. 3rd St., (213) 626-4200.

July 29 and 30:

Pasadena Buddhist Temple, 1993 Glen Ave., Pasadena (818) 798-4781.

San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 12953 Branford St., Pacoima (818) 899-4030.

West Los Angeles Buddhist Church, 2003 Corinth Ave., (213) 477-7274.

Aug. 5 and 6

Gardena Buddhist Church, 1517 W. 166th St., Gardena (213) 327-9400.

In addition, the Reiyukai America Assn. will hold a free folk-dance festival today, 4-10 p.m., at 2741 Sunset Blvd., including drum and tai-chi demonstrations; (213) 413-1771.

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