Hundreds celebrate Santa Maria, CA Obon Festival

Santa Maria Times
Lauren Foreman
29 July, 2013

ObonOdori Frank Cowan/Contributor
Girls dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos participate in the Obon Odori dance at the Obon Festival on Sunday at the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Cultural Center.

Cousins Victoria and Aundrea Salazar wore matching kimonos decorated with pink and purple hearts and flowers to the Guadalupe Buddhist Church Obon Festival on Sunday.

They danced an Obon Odori, traditional bon dance, and had Japanese writing stamped onto their cheeks.

Aundrea’s meant love.

“Mine is Obon,” Victoria said.

The word signifies a Japanese Buddhist practice to honor deceased ancestors, and the custom lured hundreds of attendees to the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Cultural Center on Sunday.

“Our festival is to honor the people who passed on before us,” said Alice Utsunomiya, festival coordinator.

It featured Taiko drummers and eight forms of traditional Japanese dance.


A member of the Oxnard-based drum group Togen Daiko performs.

Utsunomiya, also president of the Guadalupe Buddhist Church, said the festival is a fundraiser for the church.

Hundreds of patrons attended this year’s festival Sunday. Some wore colorful kimonos and danced traditional Japanese dances as they clashed castanets. Others sampled nori maki and inari sushi, pork and shrimp wontons and udon noodles.

Penelope Gustafson, high in her father Jacob’s arms, playfully bounced against a paper lantern that hung in a line of several at the Veterans’ Memorial Center.

She was the youngest in a family of five: parents Jacob and Vida Gustafson (who is originally from South Africa) and three children — Gabriel, Penelope and William, who said his favorite part of the festival was the dancing but that he was too “stage shy” to join them.

Mits Fujita of Santa Maria looks at a bonsai tree during the festival.

Jacob and Vida Gustafson said they brought their children to the Obon Festival to help expose them to a variety of cultures and broaden their perceptions of the world.

Jacob Gustafson said living in one area, “you think that everybody’s an American, and they’re not.”

“I just think it’s important for them to experience as much of the world as they can,” he said.

“Just because someone’s different doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong,” he added.


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