San Jose’s historic Japantown will be filled with the sound of taiko drumming and the aroma of chicken teriyaki this weekend, and that means one thing: The Obon festival is back in person.
Obon — a Japanese Buddhist festival that honors the dead — is one of the city’s longest-running cultural events, dating back certainly to the post-World War II period and probably back to the 1930s. And while San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin has kept the community engaged with [email protected] festivals the past two years, it feels great to have the real thing back again — even if it is somewhat scaled back as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Back to Obon” festival starts at noon both July 9 and July 10, with a taiko group from Stanford performing first Saturday and another from UC-Berkeley taking the lead on Sunday. Entertainment continues throughout the day, including San Jose Taiko performances both days, and culminates each evening with the Obon Odori dance. Parking is available at the Santa Clara County lot on First and Hedding streets, and a shuttle will run between the lot and the festival starting at 11 a.m. each day. You can check out the schedule and get other details at www.sjbetsuin.org.
One of the wonderful things about this event is how community-and family-oriented it is. Generations of family members perform in the same groups or work together in food or vendor booths year after year, though it sounds like some booths are taking a break this year so some favorites may not be around this time.
And there are some other changes, too: This year, for the first time, some of the food booths will take credit cards, and for those who still prefer to avoid crowds, some of the festival will be livestreamed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SanJoseObon.
RUN’S SECOND YEAR WAS A BLAST: There couldn’t have been better weather Saturday morning for Bloom Energy’s Stars and Strides Run in downtown San Jose, and the crowd that showed up for the second-year race proved it. There were more than 1,650 people running or walking through the course, which looped from Discovery Meadow through the SoFA District for the 5K runners (like me) and ventured all the way to William Street Park in the Naglee Park neighborhood east of downtown for the 10Kers (not like me).
The race got started in a big way — Bloom Energy Executive Vice President Carl Guardino presented a $300,000 donation to the Valley Medical Center Foundation — and finished even bigger with a festival at Discovery Meadow that included a few surprises. One of them was that runners were treated to a beer — local breweries Camino and Strike were available — or a mimosa (it was the breakfast hour, after all).
The other was a performance by the Idol Hands band, composed of Valley Medical Center staff members including lead vocalist Veronica Giles, a VMC nurse who also wowed the crowd with her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the runners hit the course. VMC Foundation Executive Director Michael Elliott told me the goal is to grow the run and festival into a traditional event for Fourth of July weekend.
DINNER OFF, BUT SCHOLARSHIPS GO ON: Rigo Chacon, the Emmy-winning South Bay newsman, let me know that he’s staying cautious and canceling the Abrazos & Books Honors Dinner originally planned for August because of COVID-19 concerns.
“While the pandemic may seem tame for our area, the mere fact that it’s still in our midst may prompt some folks to stay away from an event hosting several hundred people,” said Chacon, who started the Abrazos & Books scholarship program in 1990 for Santa Clara County high school seniors.
But the scholarship program is continuing this year without the dinner, Chacon said. The application and criteria can be found at www.abrazosandbooks.org.