As a child I went to a lot of different Japanese Buddhist churches who held Obon festivals. My mom and dad liked to bring us to the local carnivals but the highlight was always the San Fernando Obon. Aside from its better games, the San Fernando one also included sushi made by my grandmother and the other ladies of the church. In my experience, the food at the San Fernando Obon is THE BEST.
Before Sarah and I got married, I took her to Obon to show her what I did every summer growing up. Part of the fun I have at Obon is bringing people who have never been and haven't heard of it before. This year, we brought Sarah's parents and they loved it. Its awesome to see other people experience a big part of what I experienced growing up.
Obon is a holiday with similar themes to other cultures, but done in a unique and very Japanese way. Obon is a time to honor your ancestors and during this season, they are said to walk amongst their living relatives. The dancing is done as a joyful celebration for the time spent with family whether they are still here or passed on.
Participants usually wear yukata (a light kimono) as the weather in July is ALWAYS hot. However dressing up is not required and anyone is welcome to join. You don't even have to know how to do the different dances. Along the inside ring are a group of people who know all of the dances and are available for people to watch and copy. Each song has a different dance associated with it and is always accompanies by a pair of Taiko drums in the tower in the center of the dancing rings. Spectators line the outside ring and watch while eating a snow cones or some teriyaki beef. There are a lot of food options.
One of the coolest aspects of Obon here in Southern California is that Japanese Americans are just one group amongst many others. Many people from the neighborhood and surrounding cities stop by to enjoy Obon so the ethnic makeup of carnival-goers is quite diverse. It also isn't necessary that one be a practicing Buddhist. All are welcome to come enjoy some dancing, good food and good company.