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What is Obon?
Obonfest (Obon) is a summertime Japanese (and Japanese-American) festival commemorating one's ancestors. In their honor, lanterns are hung, Bon Odori (Obon dance) is performed, memorial visits are made, and food is offered at home butsudans and temples.
Oregon Buddhist Temple celebrates Obonfest annually on the first Saturday of August with hundreds of participants enjoying the festivities each year. Other Jodo Shinshu Temples related to Buddhist Churches of America celebrate in the summer months as well. In California, Washington State, and Hawaii temples celebrate Obon, and it is often a cornerstone to a temple's fundraising efforts.
Central to Obonfest is Bon Odori (Obon dance). These joyful dances invite the community to celebrate and pay tribute to ancestors and those family members who have more recently passed. Each year experienced Bon Odori dancers lead the group, and all are encouraged to participate and follow along. Popular dances include the traditional Tankobushi, or coal miner’sdance, as well as more contemporary dances like Baseball Odori.
All are welcome families, non-Buddhist neighbors, and fun-loving food lovers. There is no entrance fee to come and enjoy.
The Origins and History of Obon in America
As Buddhist legend goes, Mogallana, a disciple of Buddha, had a meditative vision of his mother suffering in the World of Hungry Ghosts. Buddha instructed him to provide a feast for monks returning from their summer retreats. Upon doing so, his mother was released from her suffering and he danced for joy. This became the origin of Bon Odori.
The first recorded Bon Odori in this country was held in San Francisco in 1931. Since then, Obon celebrations have flourished up and down the West Coast and throughout the country, becoming a fixture of both Jodo Shinshu as well as Japanese American life.
At Oregon Buddhist Temple, we emphasize two things about Bon Odori; 1. This is not performance dancing, it is dancing for joy. The idea is to lose your ego and enjoy the experience. 2. This dancing is about community, and everyone is welcome. It is for everyone to be just together and enjoy.