Obon festival continues tradition in Visalia

By Brett Wilkison, Visalia Times Delta, July 17, 2009

Visalia, CA (USA) -- More than 2,000 years ago, in what is now India, the Buddha gathered his followers and told them to celebrate their ancestors. According to Buddhist lore, the monks kept to their solemn rituals, while the civilians danced.

<< Aiko Hasebe practices a Japanese folk dance during rehearsal for Sunday's Obon festival at the Visalia Buddhist Church. (Ron Holman)

Now, two millenniums later on a different continent, the Obon festival, or "gathering of joy" that was popularized in Japan and includes a mix of East Asian culture and folklore, has taken root in the Central Valley.

July features a string of weekend festivals, from Fresno and Fowler to Parlier and Reedley. Visalia's event, now in its 28th consecutive year, takes place Sunday night at the Visalia Buddhist Church.

Like the other local gatherings, the night will include a solemn ceremony remembering loved ones lost, outdoor processional dances underneath colorful globe lanterns and performances by traditional taiko drummers.

An important annual fundraiser, the festival is open to all, regardless of religious background. Admission is free, while a pre-performance meal and treats are for sale.

"It's multiethnic, laid back, just an easy evening where everyone has a relaxing time," said the Rev. Jo-Ren MacDonald, the church's spiritual leader.
Cultural touchstone

Yearly Obon celebrations started in the United States as far back as the late 19th century. In the Central Valley, they date to at least the 1950s, and since then they've become a special cultural touchstone for the Japanese community.

"It's like a family get-together," said Ellen Tanimoto, president of the Visalia Buddhist Church. She and most of the temple's other performers are attending every festival in the area, starting with Fresno's, which was Saturday. Performers at the other festivals will do the same for Visalia, she said.

"We join together, the whole Central Valley, to celebrate," she said.
Rehearsals and relaxation

Preparations for the Visalia festival have been under way since June, when the temple's two dozen dancers started rehearsing two times a week.

They'll perform 12 dances, each set to songs that celebrate hometowns around Japan and chronicle the toil of their workers.

A favorite continues to be tanko bushi, or the coal miner's dance: The dance is set to a catchy tune, and performers act as if they're pushing carts around in a circle and shoveling coal over their shoulders.

"People catch on very fast," said Susie Yamashita, 74, a dance instructor who last year saw hundreds of performers veterans and newbies alike ' circle around the temple's outdoor stage.

"No matter what mood you're in when you come here, you're going to go home relaxed," the Rev. MacDonald said. "That's our gift: We make people feel better."

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB
Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv