This is not something that Christians are likely to do, but it has ben an integral part of Japanese Mahayana Buddhist practice since the Seventh Century. It is a belief that the disembodied spirits of the dead return to Earth to visit around July and August. According to the Rev. Patti Usuki of the West L.A. Hongwanji:
Obon season is a time to express our gratitude to loved ones who have passed on before us. Without them, we would not be who we are today, due to the basic tenet of interdependence. We would not be where we are and we would not be able to do the things we do to enjoy life. Just think about the number of people involved in creating each of us. If we go back just thirty generations, we can calculate that there were over two billion parents, starting with our two parents, their four parents, and so on—and that’s just the physical part.
So on different weekends during July and August, the many members of the Jodo Shinshu sect of Buddhism travel to the different Hongwanjis in Southern California and do the traditional bon dances. Represented yesterday at the West L.A. Buddhist Temple were parishioners from Venice, Sun Valley, San Fernando Valley, Senshin (Downtown L.A.), Pasadena, and even from as far away as Ventura, Orange, and Santa Barbara counties.
Of course, dancing is not the only draw. My favorite food on offer there is the Men’s Club’s Pork Udon Soup, seasoned with spicy Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese chili powder). Another favorite is the blueberry imagawayaki, which is like a hand-held blueberry pancake with extra blueberries. Martine, as usual, went for the teriyaki chicken.
The combination of good food, colorful kimonos, and enthusiastic dancers on a pleasant summer evening made for a good time.