Obon and Impermanence

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City codes changing all aspects of this year’s festival.

Music and dance will still be part of MVBT’s Obon Festival, but visitors will find many changes this year.

By MIKE and TRACI INOUYE

“How are we going to do Obon … without rice?” Randy Sato, co-chair of this year’s Obon Festival and Bazaar at the Mountain View Buddhist Temple, pushed his tensed fingers thru his hair.

The members of the Mountain View Buddhist Temple are facing a powerful lesson in the Buddhist concept of impermanence this year. Over the last 66 years, MVBT’s festival has grown to be one of the largest in California. Guests at this year’s Obon Festival are in for a different experience.

Over the past 10 months, the festival has come under a newly defined set of city codes forcing co-chairs Sato and Craig Hamasaki to rethink all aspects of the event. The temple’s traditional wooden booths would each require a separate building permit, so they must rent smaller metal frames and canopies, changing the entire festival layout.

The gas lines that feed the cooking areas have been disallowed. They cannot deep-fry tempura and corn dogs. They cannot boil the volume of dashi needed to serve udon. They cannot power their industrial rice cookers. They cannot make rice-based standards like chirashi, futomaki, agesushi, chili rice and Spam musubi.

“It’s quite a list of changes,” shares Hamasaki.

It’s not just the food. Rewiring and relighting throughout the festival has forced adjusted operating hours to maximize daylight. “It is important for us to be in compliance, and to be safe,” Hamasaki reflects. “We just hope our extended temple family that faithfully supports us each year will have patience with all the changes.”

Food booths are getting creative. “Japan dogs” will be introduced this year, yakisoba makes a comeback, teriyaki plate dinners will be introduced. Sushi and Spam musubi may come from outside sources and, true to the tight-knit temple community, temples in San Jose and Palo Alto have their kitchens on standby to help.

“It makes me a little sad that my grandkids are not going to have the same memories of Obon that I had, and my children had, growing up at the temple all these years,” shared Temple President Sterling Makishima. “But, that’s what they tell us, right? That nothing stays the same.”

But Obon is also a time to reflect upon the terms “gambatte” and “shikata ga nai” that have helped our community endure, so it is with a wink and a nod the folks at MVBT are making commemorative T-shirts with “Change Happens” printed on them to mark the festival of 2018, a year of transition.

Join us at the Mountain View Obon Festival, Saturday, July 21 (2 to 8 p.m.) and Sunday, 22 (noon to 8 p.m.). Please note the new hours. Looking forward to seeing you there.

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MVBT is located at 575 N. Shoreline Blvd. For more information, call (650) 964-9426 or visit www.mvbuddhisttemple.org. Mike and Traci Inouye are part of the MVBT Obon Outreach Committee. This article originally appeared in The Nichi Bei Weekly in San Francisco, and the views expressed are not necessarily those of The Nichi Bei Weekly or The Rafu Shimpo.

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