Buddhist festival in Palo Alto kicks off Saturday

By Will Oremus, San Jose Mercury, July 29, 2009

Palo Alto, CA (USA) -- The toll of a giant bell at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple at 5 p.m. Saturday will mark the start of the city's annual Obon Festival, a two-day celebration of Buddhist and Japanese-American culture.

First held in Palo Alto in 1948, the traditional event brings families together to honor the spirits of their ancestors. It is held in almost every town and city in Japan in July or August. Palo Alto's version combines food, entertainment and dance with contemplation and is free and open to the public.

Musical highlights will include taiko drumming, a bamboo flute and Japanese harp concert and an outdoor jazz performance on Saturday night by the temple's resident "Bad Karma" quintet. The food will be a mix of Japanese offerings, such as sushi and udon, and American festival food such as hot dogs, shaved ice and strawberry shortcake. There will also be martial arts demonstrations, including one by the Palo Alto Judo Club at 9 p.m. Saturday. For children, there will be a midway with carnival and craft booths.

Visitors curious about Buddhism are invited to tour the Hondo, or sanctuary, where guides will be on hand to answer questions.

The festival will close with attendees dancing in a circle outdoors, a traditional ceremony meant to raise the memories of loved ones.

The Palo Alto Buddhist Temple is at 2751 Louis Road in Palo Alto. For more information, visit www.pabt.org or call the temple offices on weekday