While organizers described this year's Obon as a success, the event was clearly smaller than prior years, said Mike Inouye, a temple spokesman. Normally the temple's largest annual fundraiser, this year event took in about 20 percent less in revenues than last year.
This reduction is partly due to new restrictions by the Mountain View Fire Department prohibiting the temple from running gas lines for the event's food stands. Obon organizers say this meant a wide range of traditional dishes that required deep-frying, boiling or large amounts of rice were impossible to cook in large quantities on-site. That severely limited their ability to make popular dishes such as udon, tempura, chirashi, futomaki, agesushi and spam musubi.
Meanwhile, building inspectors required the festival to obtain separate building permits for each booth structure. In prior years, the festival has used traditional wooden booths to host carnival games, concessionaires and other attractions. For this year's event, organizers had to rent smaller canopies. Some carnival games, such as the coin-toss booths, were not featured this year. In addition, changes to the electrical wiring and lighting forced the festival to limit its hours of operation.
Mountain View officials say city inspectors were simply enforcing the existing code requirements for the Obon's Festival's temporary use permit, said senior city planner Diana Pancholi. In prior years, this event permit was processed by the city Recreation Department, but this year the review included staff from the building and fire departments, she said.
"We want to make sure that we have safe operating conditions and that this event can be organized in a safe manner," Pancholi said. "We've been talking about them for a long time now after the last event, so this shouldn't be a surprise."
While disappointed, organizers for the Obon Festival said they accepted the changes with a philosophical perspective. Inouye said the Buddhist congregation wanted to ensure that their guests weren't upset to find some regular features of the festival missing this year. They tried their best to adapt to the new rules. This year's event featured various new teriyaki dishes and "Japan dogs." Other temples in San Jose and Palo Alto volunteered their kitchens to help prepare sushi and spam musubi off-site.
Pointing to the Buddhist concept of impermanence, temple president Sterling Makishima said the community was finding ways to move forward.
"It makes me a little sad that my grandkids are not going to have the same memories of Obon that I had and my children had, growing up at the temple all these years," said Makishima. "But that's what they tell us, right? That nothing stays the same."
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