Memories of San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s First Obon

By Susan (Kawakita) Kwong

Hearing my mom reminisce of how she and a handful of her friends started Obon at San Mateo Buddhist Temple, it quickly caught my attention and found it my mission to contact her friends and listen to their stories. Wish I had known years earlier since I was only able to obtain a few people’s memories. Was quite interesting and wanted to share this story since our Obon is around the corner. Thank you, Mrs. Wada, Mrs. Hashimoto, and mom for reminiscing about San Mateo Buddhist Temple’s first Obon.

Ruth Nakagawa Wada:

“In 1948 or 1949, Yori, Kyoko, Kitty, and I went to San Francisco to learn the Obon dancesfrom Masako Hanyu. There were two drivers – John Nakano was one of them who drove us to San Francisco. We rented the Lawrence School auditorium to practice and had the Obon since the church didn’t have a building at the time. We also practiced at the old Japanese school located on Delaware and 2nd Avenue (Jr. YBA met there too for meetings). For Obon, I remember we wore beautiful nihongi sent from Japan. There were no yukatas during that time. Once the social hall was built around 1953, we had the practices and Obon inside. We taught until 1953.”

Akiko (Kitty) Uchida Hashimoto:

Right: Kitty Uchida Hashimoto

She remembered that after the war, they went every weekend to San Francisco to learn the Obon dances. Someone gave them a ride to San Francisco and on the way home would stop at the doughnut shop in South San Francisco. “Boy, that was a treat,” she recalled. We had practices once a week to teach the rest of the congregation. She said her friends would urge her to go to the practices and also was coerced to being the first person to lead the people out since she was the tallest one. She felt Toshiko was the tallest and she should lead.

Yoriko Matsueda Kawakita:

“I remember we started Obon after the war. The founding ladies were Kyoko Takeshita Sasano, Akiko (Kitty) Uchida Hashimoto, Ruth
Nakagawa Wada, Edith Marubayashi, Toshiko Murakami, and myself. We went to San Francisco every week to learn Obon dances. One of the teachers that taught us was Masako Hanyu. She even came to San Mateo’s Obon night to dance with us and years after. Since the Buddhist Temple didn’t have a location or building yet, we taught the congregation the Obon dances at Lawrence School’s gym/auditorium. I remember always smelling soup, like Campbell’s soup, in the gym which was probably from the cafeteria lunch that day. It smelled sooo good. The first Obon was held at Lawrence School’s auditorium. Mrs. Miyakusu had taught me the odori to the song, ‘Tennen no Bi’ which means Beauty of Heaven. I then taught Kitty, Ruthie, and Kyoko and we performed it during the Obon intermission.”

After my mom told me this story about ‘Tennen no Bi’, she danced and sang this song in front of me with joy and beauty.

Yoriko Matsueda Kawakita