Southern California Obons and summer festivals


Valley Japanese Community Center’s Obon festival is on Saturday, June 22 (5-10 p.m.), and Sunday, June 23 (5-9 p.m.), at 8850 Lankershim Blvd., Sun Valley. Bon Odori begins at 7 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. There will be food and entertainment (including the Matsutoyo Kai dance and musical group on Saturday, Los Angeles Matsuri Taiko on Sunday) during the break from dancing.

The community center, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, has less than 200 members. “Many of the people who come to our Obon say it’s intimate,” Christine Inouye, the Valley Japanese Community Center’s dance instructor, related. “They like it because it’s smaller and they don’t feel like they’re just lost in a big crowd.”

 “Many of the people who come to our Obon say it’s intimate. They like it because it’s smaller and they don’t feel like they’re just lost in a big crowd.” — Christine Inouye,  the Valley Japanese  Community Center’s dance instructor
“Many of the people who come to our Obon say it’s intimate. They like it because it’s smaller and they don’t feel like they’re just lost in a big crowd.”
— Christine Inouye,
the Valley Japanese
Community Center’s dance instructor. photo courtesy of Christine Inouye

When Nikkei were released from the wartime concentration camps, many had to live initially in trailer camps, including one in Burbank and another one in Sun Valley, before settling in the Sun Valley area and establishing this center in 1953, reported Inouye, whose family was imprisoned at the Heart Mountain, Wyo. concentration camp. “Now we have a Japanese school, we have a Buddhist temple, we have kendo, judo, karate, we have tea ceremony class, Japanese calligraphy. It’s a very small center, so you get to know people rather well. It’s like a big family here.”
For details e-mail or call (818) 825-9583.

West Covina Buddhist Temple’s Obon festival is set for Saturday, June 29 (2-9 p.m.), at East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, 1203 W. Puente Ave., West Covina.

Bon Odori begins at 7 p.m. Other highlights include taiko drumming, martial arts demonstrations, cultural exhibits, farmers market and bingo, as well as “lots of Japanese and other ethnic foods available, and games for the kids,” said the Rev. Peter Hata.

“In late afternoon at about 4 or 5, there’s a rush of people coming to eat dinner and then participate in the Bon Odori,” the first-year priest said. “About half the parking lot is cordoned off for the dancing, and in past years it’s been full of dancers.”

Obon has primarily a Buddhist or spiritual meaning to it, which is that life is impermanent, he added. “Therefore, we should have appreciation for the life which we are able to have in this very moment.”

West Covina Buddhist Temple, which was formed in 1959, has about 300 people on its mailing list, and about 80-90 active member families, said Hata. For details, call (626) 337-8373 or e-mail

Orange County Buddhist Church, the largest Japanese Buddhist temple in Southern California with 950 (700-plus paid) members, will observe Obon with a festival and carnival on Saturday, June 29 (2-9 p.m.) and Sunday, June 30 (2-8 p.m.), at 901 South Dale Ave., Anaheim. Religious service in English will be on Sunday, 10 a.m., and hatsubon (memorial for those who died during the past year) on Sunday, 1:30 p.m.

Dancers can participate in the Bon Odori from 7 p.m. until closing time both nights. Preceding the dancing will be a taiko performance from 6:30-7 p.m. The carnival will feature food and game booths, and a boutique selling wares made by temple members. There will be a signup for Japanese American bone marrow donors. In addition, a 442nd Regimental Combat Team support group seeks to find stories from the 442nd veterans and their families, according to Roger Mayeda, festival chairman.

“Obon is mainly the dancing, a celebration of our ancestors,” Mayeda said. “You go out and have a good time for your family, both living and dead.”

OCBC’s festival last year attracted 5,000 people, Mayeda said. “We usually have about 900 dancers over the weekend — maybe 500 on Saturday and 400 on Sunday.”

The temple offers shuttle rides to attendees needing rides from the parking area across the busy street. For information, call (714) 827-9590.

San Fernando Valley Hongwanji Buddhist Temple’s Obon festival is on Saturday, June 29, and Sunday, June 30 (4:30-9 p.m., both days), at San Fernando Valley Japanese Community Center, 12953 Branford St., Pacoima. Bon Odori will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30 p.m. The celebration includes taiko performances, food and game booths, and cultural exhibitions. The 250-member temple annually attracts about 2,000 visitors each night. For information, call (818) 899-4030.

Senshin Buddhist Temple presents its Bon Odori on Saturday, July 6 (7-9 p.m.), at 1311 West 37th St., Los Angeles. Also scheduled are omairi in the hondo at 9:30 p.m., sento shogan (1,000 oil lamps), otoki and ending with a performance by Kinnara Taiko at 10 p.m.

Senshin’s celebration is not your typical Obon festival, the Rev. Masao Kodani explained. “There is no carnival. The focus is more on the meaning of Obon. It’s a religious service, it’s remembering the dead by dancing, without ego. In other words, it’s not showing off your clothes, it’s about not being embarrassed because you don’t know the dances. It’s just the dance.”

Senshin expects about 400-500 to join in the dancing, Kodani stated. “We can’t take any more than that, there’s no parking.”

The temple, established in 1937, has a membership of about 400 families, according to Kodani. For information, call (323) 731-4617 or contact

West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple’s Obon festival takes place Saturday, July 13 (4-10 p.m.), and Sunday, July 14 (3-9 p.m.), at 2003 Corinth Ave., Los Angeles. Bon Odori starts at 6:30 p.m. both nights. West L.A. Taiko performs Saturday from 5 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. For more information, call (310) 477-7274 or e-mail

Pasadena Buddhist Temple hosts its Obon festival Saturday, July 13 (4-9 p.m.), and Sunday, July 14 (4-8:30 p.m.), at 1993 Glen Ave., Pasadena. Pasadena, one of the region’s smaller temples with about 150 members, begins its Bon Odori from 6:30 p.m. both nights. Call Jean Toshima at (562) 305-6018, e-mail for further details; or call the temple at (626) 798-4781 or inquire via e-mail at

Oxnard Buddhist Temple’s Obon festival is on Saturday, July 13, at 250 South H St. (between Second and Third streets), Oxnard. Bon Odori is slated for 6-8 p.m. For information, contact Rev. Henry Adams at (805) 483-5948.

Nishi Hongwanji (Los Angeles Hompa Hongwanji) Buddhist Temple welcomes celebrants to its Obon festival on Saturday, July 20 (3-10 p.m.), and Sunday, July 21 (2:30-9 p.m.), at 815 East First St., Los Angeles.

Vance Ikkanda, festival spokesperson, reported that the Bon Odori commences from 7-9 p.m. Saturday and 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Sunday. Other features include various ethnic and American foods, carnival games, cultural displays, judo demonstration and bingo. The outdoor stage will feature taiko and other performances. Nishi’s festival usually attracts “thousands of visitors,” including about 1,000 dancers each night, according to Ikkanda.

The 108-year-old temple is one of the region’s largest temples with more than 700 members. For more details, call (213) 680-9130.

Zenshuji Soto Mission celebrates Obon with a carnival Saturday, July 20, and Sunday, July 21 (11 a.m.-8 p.m. both days), at 123 South Hewitt St., Little Tokyo. Bon Odori begins at 6 p.m. Saturday and 6:15 p.m. Sunday. The carnival features authentic Japanese food, entertainment, cultural displays, and plants and produce for sale. For information, call (213) 624-8658.

Buddhist Church of Santa Barbara’s Obon festival is on Saturday, July 20 (1-7 p.m.), at 1015 E. Montecito St., Santa Barbara. Bon Odori Session 1 starts at 4 p.m., Togen Daiko performs during the break, and dance Session 2 commences at 6 p.m. The festival also features shakuhachi performance, kendo demonstration, flower arranging and Japanese music and dance performance. For more details, call (805) 483-5948 or e-mail

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple invites everyone to its Obon festival on Saturday, July 27, and Sunday, July 28 (1-9 p.m. both days), at 505 East Third St., Little Tokyo, announced Rinban Noriaki Ito.

“Obon is a joyful time to be reminded of the links that we have to the past,” the Rinban said. “Buddhism encourages us to focus on the present moment, saying that the present is the only reality there is, and there is no use trying to relive the past. Our ego remains here and now. It’s people’s responsibility to learn the lessons of our predecessors and to leave behind good lessons and a better world for those people coming in the future.”

The feature event of the festival, the Bon Odori, will be held from 6:30 both nights. Predictions are for about 5,000 attendees each day, and more than 100 dancers each night. There will be entertainment from 1:30 p.m. until Bon Odori starts. Featured in the program are June Kuramoto and Friends, and other musical groups. In addition, there will be Odori Kai, hereandnow, Taiko Project, Bombu Taiko and the crowd-pleasing group, HappyFunSmile. Other attractions include food and game booths and bingo.

Higashi Honganji was established in 1904, originally in Little Tokyo, then moved to Boyle Heights in the 1920s. “Those were the good old days in Boyle Heights, where we had a neighborhood that was near the temple,” Ito reminisced. “Now, at our present location in Little Tokyo (at Third Street and Central Avenue since 1976), most of our members have to drive in. But still we have an active membership that continues to stay loyal to us … And also we’re attracting newcomers too.”

The temple’s paid membership is about 400 families, with a mailing list of 1,400. For info: (213) 626-9400.

Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple celebrates Obon with its festival on Saturday, July 27, and Sunday, July 28, at 12371 Braddock Drive, Culver City. Bon Odori is slated for 6:30 p.m. For more information, contact (310) 391-4351 or e-mail

Vista Buddhist Temple hosts its Obon festival Saturday, July 27, and Sunday, July 28 (12-8 p.m. both days), at 150 Cedar Road, Building B, Vista (in San Diego County). Bon Odori begins at 6:30 p.m. both days. The event also features Japanese food, taiko performance, silent auction, bonsai exhibit, shodo (calligraphy), sumi-e (brush painting), koto and shakuhachi lessons, games for kids, crafts booths, and flowers and plants for sale. Contact Rev. Lee Saisho Rosenthal at (760) 941-8800 or via e-mail at for information.

Gardena Buddhist Church’s Obon festival, which annually attracts the most visitors, will be held Saturday, Aug. 3 (3-10 p.m.), and Sunday, Aug. 4 (2-9 p.m.). Bon Odori will be held from 6-8 p.m. both nights. Taiko performance precedes the dancing at 5 p.m. Gardena expects more than 1,000 dancers and several thousand visitors each day. The carnival will have foods, crafts, games, cultural exhibits, nursery and produce sale, as well as prize drawings and bingo. The temple has a membership of about 700. For information, call (310) 327-9400.

Non-Buddhist Festivals
Coinciding with the many Buddhist Obon festivals held throughout summer, there are also numerous non-Buddhist summer celebrations among the various Southern California Nikkei communities, with many featuring Japanese folk dancing.

The 73rd annual Nisei Week Japanese Festival, set for Aug. 10-18, is the largest Nikkei summer event in Southern California. The highlights of this community festival of culture and heritage are the Grand Parade through the streets of Little Tokyo on Sunday, Aug. 11, and the Ondo and Closing Ceremonies on Sunday, Aug. 18. Popular events include the Coronation Ball to crown this year’s Nisei Week Queen, Awards Dinner, Pioneer Luncheon, and various performances, Baby Show, cultural and art exhibits, martial arts demonstrations and more. Call (213) 687-7193 for more information.

Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute’s annual Summer Carnival is on Saturday, June 29 (12-9 p.m.), and Sunday, June 30 (12-7:30 p.m.), at 1964 West 162nd St., Gardena. The carnival offers various ethnic and American foods, games for the kids, arts and crafts sale, nursery sale, along with entertainment, cultural exhibits, and martial arts demonstrations. In addition, there will be hourly prize drawings, and bingo from 5-9 p.m. on Saturday and 4-7:30 p.m. on Sunday. “This our biggest fundraiser of the year,” explained spokesperson Dale Inafuku. “The number of visitors we attract is probably in the thousands. People come from Gardena, Torrance, and actually from all over the South Bay, and even as far away as Orange County. Many people grew up in this area and know about the carnival, so they come down.” For information, call (310) 324-6611.

Long Beach Japanese Cultural Center holds its Japanese festival on Saturday, June 29 (3-9 p.m.), and Sunday, June 30 (3-8 p.m.), at 1766 Seabright Ave., Long Beach. The festival will feature Ondo dancing on Saturday from 7 p.m. and on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Other highlights include taiko performance, Japanese food, games, cultural exhibits, rummage sale, demonstrations, performing arts, and a prize drawing. For details, call Ole Nervik at (562) 437-9924 or e-mail

Southeast Japanese School and Community Center presents a cultural festival and Ondo on Saturday, July 27 (3-10 p.m.), and Sunday, July 28 (2-8 p.m.), at 14615 Gridley Road, Norwalk. The event features ondo, taiko performance, live music, food and games, and cultural exhibits. For more information, call (562) 863-5996 or e-mail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *