The Santa Maria Sun covers the Obon Festival

Thanks to the Santa Maria Sun and Joe Payne. The Guadalupe Buddhist Church’s Annual Obon Festival was featured online by The Santa Maria Sun. Special Thanks for Joe Payne for the great write up. Below is a cut and paste of the online article for you to enjoy reading.

A festival of joy

Generations celebrate at the Guadalupe Buddhist Church’s annual Obon Festival in Santa Maria


The origin of the Japanese tradition of the Obon Festival is enshrined in centuries of celebration. It’s a time when generations of families and friends come together to honor the lives of those who have passed away during the year since the last festival.

The Obon Festival’s Dance of Joy happens to the beat of the Taiko, a traditional Japanese drum.

The Obon Festival always includes a traditional dance, the Gathering of Joy, explained the Rev. Naomi Nakano of the Guadalupe Buddhist Church. The origin of the festival and dance is told in an apocryphal story, Nakano told the Sun.

“There was a monk in Japan who had no temple of his own, and he would help build bridges and help build villages,” she said. “And when it was accomplished, he would dance for joy that it was done. And it’s said that that was the first Obon, the first dance for joy.”

The Guadalupe Buddhist Church has led an Obon Festival every year since it was founded in 1909, Nakano said, except from 1942 to 1946, when the U.S. Government interned more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans during WWII. There were Obon celebrations in the internment camps though, Nakano said, and they fired right back up after internment was over.

The tradition has continued annually, explained Nakano, often with multiple generations coming together, preparing the traditional dance, organizing food for the festivities, and finally, getting dressed up for the big day. Though the Obon Festival honors those who have died during the year, it is far from a somber event, Nakano explained.

“We’re very thankful and grateful to them for what they did when they were alive,” she said. “So this gives us a chance to think, ‘What can I do to continue on with their teachings, to continue on with the practice of Buddhism?'”

The dance is also a way for the congregants of the Guadalupe Buddhist Church to collectively shed their egos and connect with one another, while also honoring those who will no longer join them in the dance, Nakano said.

The dance itself moves in a great circle in the large hall of the Veterans Memorial Cultural Center, swirling and swaying around a central Taiko drummer, who keeps the beat of the dance going. The Taiko is a traditional Japanese drum that provides a resonant sound, which fills any room, especially one like the cultural center.

There are also craft booths, activities, martial arts demonstrations, and more at the Obon Festival. Dancing and celebrating all day is hungry work, so food plays a prominent role there as well, Nakano said.

The Obon Festival’s Dance of Joy happens to the beat of the Taiko, a traditional Japanese drum.

“When you go to a festival, you know you get hungry, so there’s food, and you can smell it and it’s just great,” she said. “The tradition is to have sushi, but it also gets so hot out there sometimes so there’s ice cream, and that’s my favorite. We also have strawberry shortcake, and that’s with locally grown strawberries.”

Though the Obon Festival is a celebration by the Guadalupe Buddhist Church and its congregants, everyone in the community is invited to attend and to join in the festivities, Nakano said. Whether you go to a church or don’t go to a church, it doesn’t matter, she said. What matters is coming out and having a good time, for a “day of joy.”

“It’s just, the energy changes there,” she said. “People come out and we have a rip-roaring good time. And you have to come, and you have to dance. Even if someone leads you out, and you don’t need to know all the moves, but you will really learn what it means to shed your ego.”

Arts Editor Joe Payne is always in the mood for sushi. Contact him at

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