In the community

Japan Nite Obon Festival set for its 75th run at Four Rivers Cultural Center

UPDATE: The festival will be held indoors at the Four Rivers Cultural Center because of expected hot weather, organizers have announced. The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 96 on Saturday.

ONTARIO – Rich in Japanese tradition, the 75th annual Japan Nite Obon Festival will kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday June 8, at Four Rivers Cultural Center.

The cultural center and the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple collaborated to present the event, which attracted more than 800 people in 2023.

“I enjoy being part of aligning with my culture,” said Diana Morinaga, director of programs and outreach for the cultural center.

The free event will showcase food catered by Matsy’s Restaurant & Catering. Food choices will include Bento boxes consisting of Teriyaki chicken or Mafa chicken, steamed rice, Japanese egg roll, cucumber salad, sliced oranges and a fortune cookie. Beef shish kabobs will also be available.

A beer garden will open at 4 p.m.

A young girl holds her umbrella at the Japan Nite Obon Festival at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario in 2023. (The Enterprise/FILE)

At 6 p.m. the Japanese drumming band Sangha Taiko will perform. At 7 p.m. the Odori dance event will begin.

The festival is geared for people to celebrate their ancestors.

“I’m excited. This is part of our history,” said Morinaga.

Japanese Americans have been part of the community since the 1920s but their population surged during World War II. As the U.S. prepared to wage war, a boost in sugar beet production was necessary as the sugar was used to create industrial alcohol. Industrial alcohol was used to produce antifreeze, plastics, medical gear and gunpowder.

Many of the Japanese who arrived in the county came from internment camps where more than 115,000 people of Japanese descent were held during the war. About two-thirds of the Japanese detainees were American citizens.

Sangha Taiko plays at the Japan Nite Obon Festival at the Four Rivers Cultural Center in Ontario in July, 2023. (the Enterprise/FILE)

Sugar beets were then, as now, a major crop in eastern Oregon and more than 600 Japanese Americans were brought to Ontario to work in the fields. After the war, many stayed. By the 1950s the area had one of the largest Japanese American populations in Oregon.

The event is an excellent way to learn about the Japanese culture, said Morinaga.

“It is good, family fun,” said Morinaga.

Morinaga said plans now call for the festival and dancing to be held outside the cultural center.

“Those who have attended other Obons in the Northwest say our is the best,” said Morinaga.

Mike Iseri, president of the Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple, said moving the celebration to the cultural center “makes perfect sense because doing all of this on asphalt is too hot.”

Morinaga said if the heat index is too high on June 8, the festivities will move inside the cultural center.

Iseri lauded Morinaga for spearheading the cooperative effort between the temple and the cultural center.
“She was able to accomplish things that many others could not. She gives this partnership a huge edge,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.