VISTA — Hundreds gathered on the grounds of the Vista Buddhist Temple on July 25 and July 26 to eat and socialize, to hear the beat of loud drums and especially to dance at the annual Obon festival.
Obon is a summer Buddhist festival celebrated for centuries in Japan to honor the deceased spirits of one’s ancestors. It is typically a joyful time for festival games and family reunions.
“Traditionally it’s a time to remember the ancestors and remember that they’re still with us even if they are not still physically with us, but also just to get together,” Obon attendee Miki Taylor said.
“After a few years, (our ancestors) are kind of forgotten,” said Norm Himaka, a third-generation San Diegan. “This way, it kind of brings everybody in to celebrate their life.”
Temple President Terri Omori noted that the event is not simply for the recognition of the departed but also serves as a guide for the living. “It also allows us to be mindful that our actions and our efforts in our lifetime will also affect future generations,” she said.
The Vista Obon is much smaller than its counterparts in Japan or even around California, but the crowd is more ethnically diverse. What is consistent, regardless of the setting, is the strong spiritual component to the festival. A prayer is spoken before the Bon Odori, the graceful ceremonial dance in honor of the dead. There is also religious meaning to the rousing Taiko drumming. Sally Yasukochi, a leader in the temple’s Shokenji Taiko group, said the sounds of the drum are a metaphor for the teaching of the Buddha.
“For us, the drum is like the Buddha, the sticks are like the teachings and we are like the members,” she said.
The highlight of both days is the evening dancing. Dozens participate with skill levels ranging from novice to expert. Lack of skill is generally not a problem.
“I usually go behind the older women who know it really well and just follow them in the circle,” confessed Julia Miura.
The Vista Buddhist Temple is the center for Buddhism and Japanese-American culture in North County. It is located at 140 Cedar Road in Vista. Visit www.vbtemple.org for more information.