Photos: Honoring the spirits at LA’s Obon festivals

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Taiko Performance

Last weekend Little Tokyo was filled with drumming, the scent of Teriyaki chicken, and the colorful fabrics of summer kimonos as Los Angeles’ Japanese American community came together to pay tribute to its ancestors. Obon carnivals were held in the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and  Zenshuji Soto Mission on Saturday and Sunday, and there many are more to come.

Obon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It is believed that the ancestors’ spirits return to the world and visit their offspring during the 13th to the 15th day of the 7th month each year in the lunar calendar, which coincides with July and August in the solar calendar. At the end of Obon, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes and seas to guide the spirits back to their world. The custom has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years and traditionally includes a dance, known as Bon-Odori.

In today’s Japan, Obon has become a family reunion holiday when family members will return to hometowns and visit and clean the family graves. In the U.S., it has evolved into a community summer carnival filled with Japanese food, music and performances.

A man is preparing a heavy Taiko for the performance.
A man is preparing a heavy Taiko (drum) for the performance. (Photo by Shako Liu)
Taiko Performance (Photo by Shako Liu)
Taiko Performance (Photo by Shako Liu)
Taiko Performance (Photo by Shako Liu)
A monk from the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple led the worship ceremony.  (Photo by Shako Liu)
A monk from the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple leads the worship ceremony. (Photo by Shako Liu)
The Community paid respect to its ancestors in the worship.  (Photo by Shako Liu)
The Community pays respect to its ancestors in the worship. (Photo by Shako Liu)
Ondo community dance  (Photo by Shako Liu)
Children and adults, dressed in in yukada–summer kimono, participated in the community dance towards the end of the Nishi carnival. (Photo by Shako Liu)
Ondo community dance  (Photo by Shako Liu)
Ondo community dance (Photo by Shako Liu)