A few days ago, I posted a blog about Obon festivals and this weekend, I went to my first obon festival for 2016 in the city of Visalia, California on June 25th.
Visalia is located in Central California and its literally in the center as San Francisco is 3.5 hours north, Los Angeles is 3 hours south, Sequoia National Park is under 40 minutes away and Fresno is only 43 miles north.
According to Wikipedia, in the San Joaquin Valley, it is the fifth largest city in the San Joaquin Valley and the 44th most populous city in California (#198 in the United States).
While Japanese communities were something common before World War II for Fresno, Tulare and Kings County, those who remained in the Central Valley after they were forced to live in the internment camps, built their families in the area. Some as farmers, some built their businesses from the ground up and raised their families, with generation after generation taking part in the community.
Prior to the war, many who took part in one of the largest events celebrated was the summer Obon festivals. Today, the Obon festivals continue to be the largest attended events hosted by the local Buddhist temples.
As the local Buddhist temples would hold these services, I have heard stories over the years from those who would tell me of the old days before the war and how huge the obon festivals were in the valley, especially in Reedley, Dinuba and Visalia. (In fact, you can read a wonderful interview by the Tulare County Library with Sam Katano discussing the Japanese community before, during and after World War II)
My first Obon Festival in Central California was in Fresno back in the early ’90s. I’ve heard of how obon festivals were centralized in Fresno after World War II, and while small obon festivals are held at the Buddhist temples and many come to support and help out.
I started attending the Visalia Obon Festival back in the early 2000’s. And it is probably one of the smaller obon festivals that I still travel to today, when I can.
I love supporting the event, primarily because I met a lot of people back when I started attending the obon festivals. As the obon festivals honors ones ancestors, I go to honor many of the people I have met and are no longer with us in the physical world.
The reason why I have enjoyed listening to their stories is because they talked with me about the joy of growing up in California, the pain during the time of the internment camps but also after, not being able to find jobs and the racism that existed post-World War II.
The reason why I became interested in Japan culture was because of racism. When I was a teenager, a hate group or hateful individual targeted us and spraypainted all over our home were the words, “Go home Japs!”, they went so far to do as much damage to our property and vehicles as possible and for my family, they couldn’t understand why. Because we are not Japanese, we are Filipino.
The ’80s were a little turbulent in America as many Japanese companies were purchasing businesses and economically, there was a lot of fear and hate going around the country that people attacked or targeted Asians because they feared Asians were Japanese trying to steal their jobs and take over their country. As ludicrous as it seems, the ignorance was high back then as it is today. As we are seeing innocent people being targeted because of their religion and the ugliness of racism is steadily becoming more apparent more than ever in today’s world.
As many Japanese living in America had to endure racism on a daily basis during and after World War II, that was the first time in my life where I faced racism at this level and we were targeted because people thought we were Japanese.
By the following year, I moved to Southern California and because I was new to the city, I was always stuck at home. And on the weekends, KCSI (Channel 18) in Los Angeles would show international programming and Saturday night was Japanese night. And I was hooked on Japanese programming that was English subtitled.
When I attended Fresno State, while editor-in-chief of Asian Pacific Review, I also ran a Japanese club, which allowed me to help and assist Japanese students in America. Especially those who were not college students, but students learning English.
But it was the Obon festivals that I look forward to going and bringing the students along to experience with the community.
And through Obon festivals, as mentioned, I made many friends, many who would tell me of their story of growing up in California and how things were back in the past.
And now, I attend these events, taking photos or capturing video from the festival and also taking photos of families who lost a loved one.
But I think my adoration for obon festivals is also because of support. The communities are now becoming smaller, as one who told me that he is now in his ’80s, he has been going to obon festivals before the internment camps and he continues to support the festivals. But he also sees many friends and associates passing away and wonders if these smaller temples can continue to have Obon festivals in the future, as the volunteers are also older and the baton of hosting and running these festivals is passed on to a new generation.
I really do hope these obon festivals in the Central Valley will continue to thrive.
Everytime I visit an obon festival, there is this sense of calming, this sense of peace. And the people I have met at these festivals have been awesome.
In fact, I can’t think of a year without obon festivals because I look forward to them every summer.
As for last night’s Visalia Obon Festival 2016, it was a lot of fun. It was great to see the community come out and support the event and also take part in the dancing. People of different ethnicities, people of different ages, it was a great sight to see.
Also, while the weather was extremely hot on Saturday, the best decision the festival made a few years ago was starting the parade later in the day at 7:45 p.m.
But I had a great time and I do want to remind people who love attending obon festivals and live in the central valley, the next obon festivals are in:
July 2 – Reedley
July 9 – Fresno
July 16 – Fowler
July 23 – Parlier
Also, visit my previous blog post to learn more about obon festivals near your area. I highly recommend visiting one!
For more of my photos from the Visalia Obon Festival 2016, please click here!