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Japanese Obon Festival comes alive in Cortez
Obon festival
In the community of Cortez the Obon Festival is celebrated with joyous dancing. - photo by Journal file photo

The Annual Cortez Obon Festival will be held at 7 p.m. July 5 in the parking lot between Cortez Hall and Cortez Buddhist Church on Cortez Avenue, between Santa Fe Drive and Linwood Avenue, southeast of Turlock.

The Obon festival is held in many communities in Japan, as well as in Japanese-American communities around the United States. The origins of Obon are from the Buddhist legend of Mogallana, one of the Buddha’s disciples, rejoicing when his mother’s soul was redeemed from the realm of hungry ghosts. Most people of Japanese ancestry celebrate Obon as a homecoming:  a time to visit one’s hometown and give homage to ancestors.

For many Buddhist churches and temples in America, this festival offers a time to hold major fundraisers in the form of bazaars with ethnic food, games, cultural displays, and, of course, Obon dancing. However, in the humble rural community of Cortez, it is simply celebrated with joyous dancing.

Obon dancing is traditionally very simple. Most dances are set to Japanese folk songs, both old and new, with repetitive steps that can be learned quickly. Many dress in traditional summer wear called yukata, while others choose to wear hapi coats over their street clothes. Obon festivals are very casual affairs and are meant for people to act spontaneously. Those in the audience are encouraged to participate.

In its fourth appearance at Cortez Obon, Ballico Taiko, a drum group from Ballico-Cressey Elementary School District, will start the celebration at 7 p.m. Dancing will start soon thereafter with musical accompaniment by the Cortez Karaoke Singers. During intermission, guests can enjoy another taiko performance, this time by Stockton Bukkyo Taiko, and an encore performance by the Cortez Karaoke Singers. There will also be refreshments from Cortez Buddhist Church.

For a preview of the dancing or to learn the dances, practices will be held at the Cortez Buddhist Church from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 30, July 1, July 2, and July 3.