By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
RAFU STAFF INTERN
As a faithful obon-goer for 10 years, Michi Kakiba knows the routine.
Each year, the 82-year-old from Terminal Island attends the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple Obon festival to enjoy the food, especially her favorite, tamales.
Each year, she also watches the Bon Odori, where she always sees a white man who dances without a hapi coat.
This year, she intended to change that.
“I have an old hapi that I no longer wear and I was going to give it to (him), but I don’t see him,” Kakiba said. “But every year, I’m going to bring it and give it to him.”
This sense of community spirit extending beyond the immediate Japanese American community has been one of the turning points in the 50 years of Hi¬gashi’s existence, said Rinban Noriaki Ito.
“We feel that (we) share appreciation with not only our young people, but newcomers interested in learning Buddhism,” Ito said. “In terms of numbers, we think about how we’ve been able to carry on traditions and keep traditions into the future.”
This past weekend, the Higashi Honganji Obon festival commemorated its 50th anniversary, celebrat¬ing the continued presence of the Higashi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo.
“We’ve made the transition from generations and made the transition from Japanese to English,” Ito said, when asked about the progress of the church since its inception in 1959.
He added that the church is “holding on” in terms of membership. While he said that the church loses about 50 members a year, he said that membership stays the same or grows a little, allowing for the maintenance and continued growth of the temple.
The festivities on July 25-26 included a multitude of entertainment, including TaikoProject, a group of young taiko players from Los Angeles, and New York band, happyfunsmile, as well as game booths and a variety of food.
While the festival was held in the parking lot of the church, the area was barely recognizable with the dozens of memorial lanterns that hung from a line that extended throughout the lot, as well as the two large tanabata that swayed gracefully on either side of the stage.
This stage is a unique feature not present at some other obon festivals, said Jesse Sakaue, 16, from Diamond Bar, who was working at the West Covina Jr. YBA coin toss game booth.
Sakaue said that not all festivals have performers, so the fact that Higashi has a stage with live entertainment “makes it more fun.”
While Sakaue visited several obons this summer, including Nishi Honganji, OCBC, and San Fernando, he said that he liked Higashi’s obon because it was smaller.
“ There’s more people you get to meet,” he said. “I like to get together with friends, make new friends, and learn about my culture.”
In spite of the fun and frivolity of the festival, the true meaning of obon was not forgotten.
Towards the evening, Ito performed the manto-e service, which honors the memory of those who have passed away. In his sermon, Ito emphasized that obon serves as a reminder of the precious nature of life and that human beings should leave a good foundation today for their children and grandchildren.
After the service, people of all ages came together for the bon odori. Enthusiastically spurred onward by happyfunsmile, the ondo dancers followed each other around the parking lot, guided by the blue dotted circles drawn on the asphalt.
With the more experienced dancers towards the center, some novices looked towards any dancers who looked like they knew what they were doing, while others created their own versions of the traditional ondo dances.
“It’s a great crowd,” Ito said. “We’re happy that we’ve been able to make an obon for the entire community.”