A guide to San Jose’s 2023 Obon Festival

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect at San Jose’s 2023 Obon Festival, a brief history behind our local celebration, and some pro tips for your experience.

A crowded lineup of obon dancers in Japantown.

This will be the first year of normal operations since before the pandemic.

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The 2023 San Jose Obon Festival returns Saturday, July 8-Sunday, July 9 — with all the bells and whistles.

San Jose Taiko will celebrate its 50th anniversary, longtime Head Obon Instructor Reiko Iwanaga will debut a new song for her retirement, and unlike last year, all food + game booths will be open.

Ready to join in on the fun? Learn the history behind our local celebration and some pro tips to make your experience worthwhile.

Obon singers perform infront of an elevated stage of dancers.

Traditional obon songs can date back 500 years.

👘 A brief history

Obon is an annual Buddhist event commemorating those who are no longer with us. It features bon odori dances which date back centuries.

San Jose’s first Obon Festival was held in the 1930s — and it’s only gotten bigger. Our local festival draws nearly 1,000 dancers in front of San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin to perform traditional Buddhist chants and dances.

The two-day festival has become such a community staple that some longtime San Jose residents said that they’ve attended it for 40+ years.

Two women play the taiko drums.

San Jose Taiko celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Photo by Derek Wolfgram

🎏 What to expect

This year is giving us the pre-pandemic fun we all remember. But, if this is your first time attending, here are some pro tips:

  • Parking in Japantown is... slim. We recommend parking at the free lot on First + Hedding streets and taking the shuttle.
  • Missed practices but still want to dance? You can find practice videos on YouTube or just hop in and follow the instructors in the center of the dancing circle.
  • Can’t make it out? Attend virtually through the SJ Buddhist Church Betsuin Facebook Live channel.

Also, don’t miss the special guest this year, singer + guitarist Kina Grannis, who will perform Sunday at 2:30 p.m. to campaign for bone marrow donor registrants for her mother.

For more information, check the obon schedule + FAQ page.

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