Anaheim Buddhist festival honoring ancestors is open to all


More than 1,000 people are expected to gather July 14-15 for the Orange County Buddhist Church’s annual Obon festival, a traditional Japanese celebration that honors ancestors through music and dance.

The festival, which will take place at the OCBC in Anaheim, features games, taiko drum performances, tours of the newly-renovated hondo, or main hall of the temple, and homemade Japanese dishes, including sushi, udon, wontons and teriyaki plates.

But the highlight of the event will be evening time dancing called bon odori.

“We’re dancing in celebration of the Buddha’s teachings, but also we are remembering our loved ones,” said the Rev. Marvin Harada, resident minister at OCBC. “There are some traditional dances, and people invent new ones, sometimes with contemporary music.”

The Obon festival is also about bringing family and the community together.

“It’s a multi-generational event,” said Jo Ann Tanioka, a member of the festival’s committee, who has been attending the event since she was a child. “As children, we were the ones playing the games. “As adults, we came back and brought our children to play the games we enjoyed, the food we enjoyed. Some of our children wore the same kimonos we wore to dance. So it’s passing on the tradition.

“Depending on where you are in your life, the festival has a different meaning to you.”

OCBC has been holding Obon festivals since it was founded more than 50 years ago. What began as a celebration for church members has grown into an event for the entire Orange County community, even those who aren’t Buddhist or Japanese, said Tanioka.

Jon Turner, a minister at OCBC, estimates that up to one-quarter of attendees aren’t Japanese, so the festival has also become a way to do outreach in the community.

And for some, the festival is an entry point to a longer relationship with the church.

“We have a lot of people who join our sangha because they came to the festival,” he said of the congregation at OCBC. “A lot of people have said they feel a sense of connection and warmth, that there’s an attitude that’s inviting, so they’ll come back to services.”

Turner was one of these people.

He first attended the festival in 1997 without any knowledge of Buddhism — “You look for something to do on the weekend, and you say, ‘Oh wow, there’s this thing at the Japanese temple, let’s go check that out,’” he said — and two years later, started reading about the religion and attending services with his family.

He became a minister in 2012.

“You get a sense of warmth and calmness and peace that I think is the Buddhist way,” Turner said of the festival. “It’s Buddhism being lived out in everyday people’s lives.”

If You Go

What: Obon festival

When: 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 14 and , 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. July 15.

Where: Orange County Buddhist Church, 909 S. Dale Ave., Anaheim

Cost: Free and open to the public


Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil is a contributor to Times Community News.