Ontario’s Obon festival draws a big crowd

Mike Iseri, co-president of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple in Ontario, was all smiles Saturday during the annual Obon Festival at Four Rivers Cultural Center. The festival offered traditional Japanese dishes, dances and demonstrations. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon).

ONTARIO – For as long as he can remember, Mike Iseri has been attending the Obon Festival hosted by the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple.

On Saturday, Iseri was back at the festival as usual, chatting with friends and savoring the event’s cultural offerings and food.

“It’s a tradition,” said Iseri, co-president of the temple and one of the four logistics people for this year’s Obon, a traditional Japanese Buddhist festival. “It looks like a hit this year. I think we’re over capacity.”

Iseri estimates that over 600 people attended the festivities at the Four Rivers Cultural Center. Previously, the Obon Festival would be held at the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple.

“[The festival] was usually outside and it’d be too hot,” said Iseri. “But having this facility, we could bring it indoors and it doesn’t matter what the weather would be.”

The festival is a chance for Japanese Americans and the larger community to honor the spirits of ancestors and pay respect to those who have passed. In this sense, it’s similar to Christianity’s All Souls Day or Dia De Los Muertos. But the Obon Festival also a way for people to celebrate and express their gratitude for being alive and living in the moment.

The day of observance day is usually in August — the seventh month of the lunar calendar — and can last from one to three days. In the United States, the Obon Festival attracts different audiences and is celebrated with a modern spin-off.

“The way it works in the states is that we just adapt to the other things going on,” said Iseri, who also serves as a board member for the Four Rivers Cultural Center. “It’s bigger this year, which is nice. It brings a lot of people of different ethnicities together, and that’s what we want.”

Meanwhile, a long line snaked from the center’s gift shop to one end of the building, where traditional Japanese food was being sold. As a diverse audience feasted on their dinner, they were entertained by skilled Sangha Taiko drummers, Aikido-Arniskido martial artists and dancers adorned in ornate yukata and kimono-style attire. One of the main highlights of the evening was a special folk dance called Bon Odori, which means ‘Obon Dance.’ The dance is rooted in Buddhist folklore to welcome the spirits of the dead.

“There are a number of Caucasians that come to the temple,” Iseri continued. “The number is growing and it’s interesting how things are evolving. They need to evolve that way because the population of Japanese, especially around here, is declining.”