Obon (お盆) is a Japanese holiday on which observers honor the spirits of their ancestors. Within Japan as well as the Japanese diaspora, Obon has been observed on different dates since Japan’s adoption of the Gregorian Calender in 1872.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Little Tokyo
In LA and Orange County there were also Obon festivities on different dates that took place not only in several Little Tokyo venues but also in Anaheim, Gardena, Little Osaka, Venice, and West Covina. I attended the Obon Festival at Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple (ロサンゼルス東本願寺別院).
Higashi Hongan-ji (or, 'the eastern temple of the original vow') is one of two dominant sub-sects of Shin Buddhism. LA’s congregation is the oldest Buddhist congregation in the city, founded as Rafu Bukkyokai in 1904 by Reverend Junjyo Izumida at 229 1/2 East Fourth Street.
The congregation moved around Little Tokyo and the Eastside several times over the decades that followed. In 1907 they relocated to a nearby location on San Julian Street. In 1911, the temple moved to a building on Savannah Street in Boyle Heights, which historically had a large Japanese-American population. In 1921, it became a Higashi Honganji branch temple. In 1926, staying within Boyle Heights, it relocated to 118 North Mott.
The temple with Little Tokyo Towers in the background
It remained there until 1976, when it moved back to Little Toyko in the shadow of newly-built Little Tokyo Towers, erected in 1975.
more taiko drumming
The 2012 Obon Festival included all-day bingo, dance, drink, food, games, music, performances, a somen-eating contest, Obon Hatsubon services and a tea ceremony, among other activities. Performers and performances included Bodhi Tree Band, Bombu Taiko & Kitsune Taiko, Fujima Kansei Odori Kai, Garvey Ranch Park Dojo, Halau Hula ‘a’ ala Anuhea, happyfunsmile, hereandnow, Kinnara Taiko, Live 4 Today, Local Mojo, TAIKOPROJECT, and the Lumbini Kids (the children that attend the temple's daycare). It was free and open to the public.
I missed the Manto-e lantern lighting ceremony, a tradition begun about 1,200 years ago. I also missed teamaster Matsumura Shachu’s Ogasawara-ryu Sencha-do Tea Ceremony demonstration. However, I did catch the Bon Odori (盆踊り) – literally “Bon dance” – a dance meant to welcome the arrival of spirits.
I also watched a performance by Higashi Zumba Class, which fuses Latin music (including Cumbia Trival!) with dance and exercise.
the farmers market
The temple also hosts (and hosted on that day) bake sales, plant sales, farmers market, bingo, and child care. Additionally there's a choir and a golf club, although I didn't see any sign of them on that particular day.
Rodney Kageyama and Rex Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple
The festivities were MCed by well-known Nissei actor/director/costume designer/community activist Rodney Kageyama, veteran of San Francisco’s Asian American Theater Company and LA’s East West Players who is probably most recognized for his appearances in The Karate Kid Part II, The Next Karate Kid, Gung Ho (the film and TV series) and numerous guest appearances on TV.
Later in the day a group of friends showed up. As the Obon festivities wound down, we headed to Little Tokyo Shopping Center where, after killing a bit of time at Japan Arcade, we dined at Izakaya Honda Ya. As always, happy holidays… and 乾杯!