Obon Festival Celebration

July 23, 2019

Photo of the Santa Maria Valley Japanese Obon Festival 2019The Santa Maria Valley has deep connections to its diverse cultural roots. From live theatre to cultural celebrations to independent art galleries, the emerging cultural scene is one of the central coast’s best-kept secrets. The annual Obon Festival will be on Sunday, July 28, 2019 from 11:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. at the Veteran’s Memorial Community Center at 313 West Tunnell Street in Santa Maria, Calif. Admission is free. This festival has run for more than 65 years, and continues to grow each year.

The Obon Festival is an annual Buddhist event held to commemorate one’s ancestors. It is believed that each year during Obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. It’s meant to be celebrated with joy, and to honor and say thank you to those that have passed on before us.

Obon was originally celebrated around the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar. Obon periods are a bit different nowadays, but tend to occur in July or August. People clean their houses and place a variety of food offerings such as vegetables and fruits to the spirits of their ancestors in front of a butsudan (Buddhist altar). Chochin lanterns and arrangements of flowers are usually placed by the butsudan as another offering.

The Obon Festival in the Santa Maria Valley is open to everyone of all ages and will feature taiko drumming, plus bonsai and martial arts demonstrations, with the highlight being the folk dancing of Bon Odori which all are welcome to participate in.

Traditional Japanese food highlighting local favorites such as udon, sushi, a teriyaki chicken dinner, kushiyaki, wontons and strawberry shortcake will be available for purchase. There will be a free, fun interactive arts and crafts area for kids, with everything from origami to face painting, along with handmade items for purchase.

There will be raffle tickets available for $5 each, and a teriyaki chicken (1/2 chicken) dinner with rice and edamame for $10 each. Additional food and crafts will be available for purchase at the event. Street parking is free.

The Guadalupe Buddhist Church is one of the oldest Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) in California, established in 1909. The Santa Maria Valley has a unique and dramatic Nikkei history. In the early 1900s, the Japanese labor force grew to nearly 600 with the expansion of the Union Sugar Mill Company of Betteravia. By the 1910s, a cooperative, renamed the Guadalupe Japanese Association, supporting Japanese farm operations, included branches in Santa Maria, Oceano, Pismo and San Luis Obispo; and the Japantowns of Santa Maria and Guadalupe became commercial centers. While some Japanese ventured out as sharecroppers in the sugar beet fields in 1916, others began to farm other crops because of the decline in the industry.

Guadalupe became the town to visit for Japanese migrant workers who followed the crops from north to south, and for dignitaries from Japan who were intrigued by the small, but thriving agricultural town. Baseball enthusiast Setsuo Aratani proudly sponsored a team from the region in 1928 to compete in Japan.

In the Santa Maria Valley, there’s so much to do from here. The recipe for living requires simplicity, and a touch of soul. Hit the road and explore all you can do in and around Santa Maria Valley.

The Santa Maria Valley boasts 34 tasting rooms, 6 unique AVAs, 13 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, all within a beautiful 30-minute drive. There is no need to venture far if you are looking for sand dunes, hiking trails, cycling and authentic Santa Maria Style dining. You’ll find it’s the perfect home base, where you can eat, drink, dance and do more for less.

For more information on the Obon Festival, check here.

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