Obon a time to remember

By NICK RAHAIM, The Salinas Californian, July 28, 2008

Salinas Buddhist Temple celebrates annual festival

Salinas (CA (USA) -- Dozens of dancers clad in Hapi coats representing their Buddhist Temples and children in more elaborate kimonos performed traditional Obon dances Sunday in remembrance of tradition and of their ancestors.

Eighty-year-old women performed the same steps they have danced since childhood as some of the 4-year-olds fumbled through the movements on the heels of the graceful elderly.

Members of the Salinas Buddhist Temple wore purple Hapi coats while members of the Carmel and Watsonville temples wore blue and teal, respectively.

The Buddhist Temple of Salinas, at 14 California St., celebrated the annual Obon Festival on Sunday afternoon and evening with both traditional and non-traditional food and traditional activities, including a tea ceremony, ikebana floral and bonsai demonstrations, and a taiko drumming performance.

Kazuko Yonemitsu and Makiko Kurano sat in the bonsai and ikebana exhibit as they nibbled on vegetable tempura and chatted with their friends in Japanese. The two women have created flower bouquets since the late-1970s. Yonemitsu practices the Ohara School-style of ikebana while Kurano practices the Ikenobo style. Despite the difference they remain good friends, the two elderly women said with laughs.

The ikebana floral arrangements are crafted with elegant simplicity typical of Japanese architecture and landscaping. They are far from the cluttered bouquets often received for birthdays and anniversaries.

Both Yonemitsu and Kurano were born in Japan and owned nurseries in south Salinas for years. They started meeting at the Salinas Buddhist Temple in the 1970s as a social gathering. The men would work in trimming bonsais and the women would arrange ikebana.

While the Obon Festival now offers hot dogs, snow cones and lumpia among its more authentic flavors, it is more about tradition than anything else.

Ranel Gaton, a Salinas native who lives in San Jose, has come to the festival almost every year since 1984. Gaton said he first came to the festival while he was still dating his wife, Naomi, whose Japanese-American family is active at the temple.

"It's nice to see people involved with their culture," Gaton said, who sheepishly added that one of his main motives is the beer and food.