Obon is more than a summer festival; it’s a community endeavor. Each year, MVBT comes together to remember our ancestors, share our culture, meet with friends (both old and new), and pass on our traditions. We build booths, cook food, order prizes, organize volunteer shifts, prepare dressing rooms, arrange entertainment, set up the yagura and lighting, teach and practice odori, and so much more.
This year, with the effects of COVID-19 on public gatherings, it was clear we needed a new solution. Would we simply cancel Obon? What would a socially distant Obon look like? Could we play Bingo online? What would happen if we canceled the Temple’s biggest fundraiser? We needed answers, which meant re-imagining Obon in a way that captured the spirit of the event while keeping our Sangha safe and healthy.
With about a month to prepare, the Sangha came together to plan an event to honor our ancestors and most importantly – involve and engage our community. Over 250 members came together and spent countless hours to create an Obon experience that was purely MVBT style. Our members invited us into their living rooms, back yards, kitchens, and lives. They shared MVBT Cookbook recipes, yukata tips and tricks, Obon memories, and family stories. Temple members recorded reflections, produced videos, served as tech support, shared Facebook posts, created logos and art, and authored a coloring book. In true community spirit, other Sangha members wore masks, drove safely, and arrived on time to pick up OBON in a BOX or Bingo and Pull-Tab prizes. Others took care of themselves and the community by staying safely at home and participating in the live broadcast. In a time where all of us are feeling so separate, these members’ efforts brought joy and a sense of togetherness to our Sangha Community as a whole. Despite being apart, we were able to dance together, play together, eat together, celebrate milestones, learn new things, watch musical performances, and pass on important traditions.
In addition to re-creating the cultural and community aspects of Obon, we also had to re-imagine our donation structure. Led by our desire to honor our beloved ancestors, we developed the idea of ‘digital dedication lanterns’. These lanterns were offered in a variety of designs depending on the sponsorship level of the donor. This truly struck a chord within our Sangha and in our community and we ultimately received sponsorship for over 530 lanterns to honor our loved ones, which will remain on our website until next year’s Obon. This lantern concept inspired several other temples to adopt this idea and design their own lanterns in the spirit of Obon.
As we approach the upcoming year of Temple activities, inspired by the resilience of our Sangha, we are opening our minds to new ways of gathering for services, Dharma school classes, meetings, events, and fundraisers. How can we redesign our activities to continue dancing, playing, eating, and celebrating together? How can we stay connected as we shelter apart?
We are both proud and humbled by the outpouring of support from within our community to embrace this entirely new concept, while honoring our Obon traditions. The positive energy of everyone involved in OBON at HOME was a huge inspiration. We at MVBT are deeply grateful to our ancestors and founders to set the stage for a strong and lasting community. The energy and effort required to create OBON at HOME proves that our Sangha is interconnected, energetic, talented, resilient, and ready for any future challenges.
Gratefully submitted by;
The MVBT OBON at HOME Co-Chairs / First Team
Elise Fujimoto, Brent Izutsu, Sterling Makishima, Donna Okubo, Julie Satake Ryu, Linda Uyechi & Susan Yuen