This time every summer I begin to suspect myself of going soft and becoming optimistic and sentimental. The mood passes, I need hardly add, but while it is upon me, it amounts to a real thing. On the first weekend of every August, in Palo Alto, Calif., the Japanese community opens the doors of its temple and school in order to invite guests and outsiders to celebrate the Obon Festival. Ancestor-oriented celebrations are not exactly my thing, but there is a very calm and charming way in which the Japanese use this particular moment in the lunar calendar to remember those who have preceded them and to make the occasion a general fiesta. (I suppose the nearest regional equivalent would be the Mexican Day of the Dead.) The clement weather allows the wearing of the lighter yukata, or summer kimono, and the staging of the Bon Odori dance, in which all can join, to the soft rhythm of taiko drums. For the rest of the time, the yagura, or wooden scaffold, is the center of a sort of fairground, in which stalls and raffles compete for custom with the sellers of sake and Japanese beer and with an amazing teriyaki buffet.
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