A two-day community festival to celebrate Obon, a major Japanese Buddhist holiday that commemorates ancestors and deceased loved ones through dance, is planned in the Del Rey area.

The Obon Festival is scheduled for 3 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 16th; and 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday, July 17th, at the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, 12371 Braddock Drive, Del Rey area. Admission is free.

The event will include Japanese food and games, but the main attraction will be the dancing, says Rev. John Iwohara. Temple members, including youngsters and their parents, will perform easy-to-learn Japanese folk dance routines in which members of the community are invited to join in, says Iwohara.

The Obon holiday, most widely celebrated in Japan, is based on a story rooted in second or third century B.C.E. India. During deep meditation, Mokuren Sonja, a disciple of the Shakamuni Buddha, sees a vision of his deceased mother hanging upside down in a hellish realm, explains Iwohara.

The Buddha instructs the disciple to give alms to the monks. After this is done, the disciple sees that his mother is no longer in limbo and begins to rejoice and dance, which is the roots of the holiday’s dance traditions.

Iwohara says that in Japan, Obon is about the equivalent of Christmas as far as its size and scope of cultural influence.

The festival is planned in the summer months, roughly at the time the traditional story was said to have taken place, during India’s monsoon season.

The holiday is celebrated in July or August in Japan, depending on the region. The celebration is based on a Japanese adaptation of the Indian story.

In Japanese Buddhist tradition, is is believed that ancestors’ spirits return to visit relatives. Traditions include hanging lanterns in front of homes to give guiding light to the Obon dances and placing floating lanterns in rivers, lakes and seas to guide spirits back into their world.

Iwohara plans to give introductory comments on the meaning of the festival before the start of the dancing.

The family festival at Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple is open to all members of the community, regardless of religion, says Iwohara.

“Appreciation of the past is not limited to just Buddhists. That’s why this is open to everyone. It’s a little bit of time to reflect on the past and also to celebrate the present that we all share together,” says Iwohara.

The Obon festival has been an annual tradition at the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple for approximately 40 years now.

The Japanese taiko drum is used by alternating drummers to hold the rhythm of the dancing. Dancing on both days of the festival begins at 6:30 p.m.

A special Buddhist Obon service is planned for 10 a.m. the Sunday after the festival, July 24th.

Obon is an abreviation of the word urabon, which means “to hang upside down.” Obon rituals are conducted according to the Urabon Sutra, which contains the teachings of the Shakamuni Buddha, and is based on repaying one’s gratitude.

Information, (310) 243-3291.

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