Obon celebration features ,music, dancing and food

ONTARIO – Fliers call Ontario’s 71st annual Obon celebration this Saturday a “Festival of Joy,” but to Sharmon Fujimoto, a minister’s assistant for the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, it’s much more complicated.

“It makes me think of when I was little and we used to have huge circles of dancers. So many of those people have passed on,” Fujimoto said. “But they were a part of this temple. They were a part of touching my life.”

The event at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple in Ontario features food, including bento boxes, shishkabobs, tempura, udon and mochi balls.

There’s music and dancing and lights. But there’s nostalgia too.

One of Fujimoto’s fondest memories of Obon came on the heels of her grandmother’s death. As a young girl, she went to temple to dance Odori, the traditional Obon dance, with a kimono her grandmother had made for her.

Standing in the temple with her suitcase and sister, with all the other girls and their grandmothers, she felt a little lost. But one grandmother reached out to her, saying “Come, come. You come and I dress you.”

“I know it doesn’t sound like much,” Fujimoto said. “But it’s huge to a little kid.”

At 4 p.m. the temple will host an open house, with talks for those curious to hear more about Shin Buddhism and Japanese tradition, or to learn about Obon itself.

For a start, Obon is about remembering.

It’s about grieving what’s been lost, and celebrating that it ever was at all, she said.

Fujimoto lost her father, her mother and her brother all within the space of a year. It was a lot to take, Fujimoto said.

They were recognized at Hatsu-bon, a memorial-like service. It falls in July, as it has for hundreds of years. The festival’s schedule may be negotiable, but Hatsu-bon is not.

“Everything changes,” she said.

That everything in life is impermanent is a primary tenet of Buddhism

“Don’t get too attached to things,” she said.

A taiko drummer performance starts at 6:15 p.m., and finally, at 7:30 begins the odori folk dancing.

Ultimately, Obon is about gratitude, Fujimoto said.

Strong people who weathered ugly circumstances are why Fujimoto is here today.

Like much of Malheur County’s Japanese population, she is the descendant of Japanese Americans plucked from their homes, interned and relocated here, held until the end of World War II. Many stayed, becoming a part of the community and the culture.

This population helped establish the Obon festival, who which broke ground on the temple where it’s held, who and it allows Fujimoto the memories she now holds dear.

“You come from 14 generations of people, and if one of them were gone, you wouldn’t be here,” she said. “Lots of things have to happen just so we can have this celebration.”>]>