Annual Obon Festival at the Monterey Peninsula Buddist Temple

While the Washington D.C. area bakes in 100+ degree weather, the temperature was cool and in the 60’s today at the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple, in Seaside, California — home base for the 66th Annual Obon Festival.

From the Monterey Peninsula Buddhist Temple website:

The Obon festival is a Buddhist tradition to celebrate, remember and express gratitude to all family members who have died.  The Obon festival has been celebrated in Japan since 657 AD.  The first Obon in the United States was held in Hawaii in 1910; festivals on the mainland began about 20 years later.  2012 marks the 66th year of the Obon Festival on the Monterey Peninsula.

The first Monterey Obon Festival was held on August 25, 1947 at the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Hall in Monterey, home to the Temple then. In 1963, the event was moved to the Monterey County Fairgrounds where it was held for 30 years.  The Obon Festival returned to the Temple, now in Seaside, in 1993.  3,000 to 5,000 people from across the Monterey Peninsula and beyond attend each year.

We visited the festival for the first time since moving to this area, and were pleasantly surprised.  It was a well-organized event, featuring plenty of food booths, martial arts demonstrations, tea ceremonies, a book and Asian gift store, and exhibits of bonsai – the practice of long-term cultivation and shaping of small trees growing in a container.

The bonsai displays were interesting, and once we realized how old the trees were — from 20 to 50 years old — we really appreciated the devotion it takes to practice this Japanese art form.

It is fascinating to see a redwood tree (sequoias) — the tallest living trees on our planet, and normally growing 300-350 feet tall — in miniature format, and growing in a tiny ceramic pot.

Bonsai Redwood Tree – Click on the photo to learn more about Giant Sequoias and Coast Redwood Trees, and about one that traveled to the moon and now planted in downtown historic Monterey

Bonsai Monterey Pine Tree

Bonsai Olive Tree

Bonsai Elm Tree

Bonsai with flowers!

There were also presentations of ikebana – the Japanese art of flower arrangement.  As much as I love vases overflowing with flowers, it is enjoyable to see a minimalist style of presenting flowers, where the emphasis is also about the lines, the stems and the twigs.

Some beautiful examples below:

Did I mention the wonderful volunteers happily pouring free cups of hot green tea to festival attendees?  The hot green tea was perfect for the cool weather (warm sake, cold beer and sodas were also available for sale).

My one complaint…the Styrofoam cups, which are difficult to recycle!  If you read this and plan to attend next year, bring your own mugs for the free hot green tea and other beverages.

More photos from the festival, tomorrow…

Related links: Japanese-City.com – link to 2012 Japanese Obon & Bon Odori Schedule

Monterey Bonsai Club

Monterey Peninsula Buddist Temple

Ikebana International – Monterey Bay Chapter