Oxnard Buddhist Temple welcomes Obon celebrants

By Anne Kallas, Ventura County Star, July 10, 2010

Ventura, CA (USA) -- Smoke wafting from racks of beef teriyaki Saturday announced the 55th Obon Festival, sponsored by and held at Oxnard Buddhist Temple, well before visitors reached the site where music, martial arts demonstrations, bonsai, dance and an abundance of food awaited.

Rance Kudo, co-treasurer and spokesman for the temple, said the Obon Festival celebrates traditional Japanese culture while providing a way to reach out.

“This is just a tradition we developed to gather the whole community to enjoy our culture,” Kudo said. “We do this while celebrating the temple and paying respects to those who have passed.”

He said Obon festivals are traditionally held in summer, though there is no set date, which makes it easier to coordinate celebrations with other temples. It is a traditional Buddhist event held to remember ancestors, and Kudo said it is more celebratory than solemn.

The highlight for many is the food, which Kudo said included the temple’s traditional udon noodles with made-from-scratch broth. Jennifer Lynch and David Fukutomi from Camarillo were enjoying big cups of noodles paired with teriyaki beef and chicken, respectively.

Fukutomi said the festival has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. “I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. It’s kind of a family tradition and I love all the food,” he said before taking a big bite of chicken and noodles.

Lynch said it was her second year. “I’ve learned a lot from the displays and from talking to people. It’s really interesting,” she said.

While many of the treats offered were familiar fare such as chili dogs and snow cones, there were some traditional Japanese treats, such as kintoki, which is sweetened red beans served with shaved ice, and manju, a traditional Japanese confection. At the gyoza booth there was Spam musubi, which is Spam wrapped in rice and seaweed, like a big sushi roll. Regular sushi also was available.

In addition to the prepared food, there was a booth selling produce such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, cucumbers and more, all of which is donated each year.

The festival was packed with people enjoying demonstrations of judo and karate, along with Japanese classical dance and Okinawa dance. Kudo said the festival is one of the temple’s biggest fundraisers.

Others are the Strawberry Festival, where they sell chocolate-dipped strawberries, and the udon booth at the Ventura County Fair. He said the money raised goes to support the temple’s programs, which include educational and cultural classes.