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Obon, the town, and my grandfather

On Saturday morning, I woke up by myself, which was unusual for me. Mom

"Oh, how unusual."

She told me to get ready to go out. I told my mom who was driving.

"Where are you going?"

I heard.

"What are you talking about? Today is Obon day at kindergarten and I told you I'd be helping out."

That's right, today is Obon at Higashi Honganji Temple, where I go. I'll ask them to buy me some cupcakes at the bake sale later. I'm a little excited now.

When my mom and I arrived at the kindergarten, we immediately headed to the classroom where we were going to help out. The classroom was different from usual, with no chairs or desks. I thought it was quite spacious. In the center of the classroom, there was a long table, different from usual, with cookies and cakes lined up. I walked along the table, choosing what I wanted to buy later.

"Kou-chan, come on! I'll get you in your yukata right now."

My mom called me over and helped me put on a blue yukata while she talked with the other moms and teachers.


I felt a little embarrassed when everyone said that to me. I'm a boy, so I can't be cute.

When the festival began, I sat in a chair in the corner of the classroom so as not to get in the way.

Mom turned around and gave me five dollars.

"Mom's busy, so if you're hungry, buy something here. But be sure to tell me when you're going. Mom's here."

I took the money and put it in the sleeve of my yukata. I wasn't hungry yet, and my friend was nowhere to be seen.

"I'll be here a little longer."

But honestly, it's boring. As I was looking around, I heard a familiar voice.


Someone called my name. I looked around, but I didn't see anyone I knew.

"Kotaro! Over here!"

Looking out the classroom window, I saw my grandfather. I immediately stood up and called out to my mother, who seemed busy.

"I'm going with Grandpa."

I didn't know if she heard me or not, but she nodded. I ran to my grandfather. It had been a long time since I last saw him, so I was happy.


My grandfather put his hand on my head and laughed.

"Let's go and pray together."



I replied, and headed towards the temple with my grandfather. We held hands and climbed the stairs. I found it a little strange because the last time I met my grandfather, he looked like he was in pain even walking a short distance with his cane, but today he looked fine. When we reached the top of the stairs, my grandfather pointed to a bench at the edge of the temple entrance.

"I'm a little tired from the stairs. I'll sit down and rest for a bit."

I thought that he must have been in pain after all. Grandpa and I sat on a bench and looked around. I hadn't noticed before, but the top of the stairs was quite high. As we were looking around, Grandpa began to speak.

"Little Tokyo has changed a lot... I feel a little sad."

My grandfather's face, which had been smiling up until then, now looked a little sad.

"I used to come to this small town with Hatsu almost every day, and it would take hours to go shopping with her..."

Despite his reluctance, Grandpa happily began talking about his daily life with Grandma Hatsu. He pointed to a building on 3rd and Alameda.

"There used to be a supermarket called Yaohan over there, and Hatsu would always spend over an hour shopping there. When Grandpa got bored, he would stop by the bookstore inside, Asahi-ya, to read a book, or when he got hungry he would buy a sweet bun from the Ginza-ya bakery right across the street. Whenever we went back to the supermarket to check on him, Hatsu would always say, 'This is cheaper at Enbun, and that's cheaper at Modern Food,' and then he'd hand Grandpa the shopping bag and head off to the next two more supermarkets a few blocks away. They always went in the same order, Yaohan, and then Modern Food."

I was happy to see my grandfather talking happily.

"Where is modern food?"

Grandpa looked at me and continued speaking.

"The building that Pinkberry is in used to be a big supermarket. In front of it, in the Little Tokyo Nihonmura Square, there's now Nijiya, but there used to be a small supermarket called Enbun. Every time we went shopping, we would be rotated to all three of those stores. While Hatsu was shopping, Grandpa would buy Imagawayaki at Mitsuru and wait outside. Whenever Hatsu saw him, he'd get angry, saying, 'Eating sweets before dinner again,' but when he showed Hatsu his share, he'd happily eat it. Hatsu was good at shopping, so he never complained. He was a very reliable guy."

As my grandfather talked about Grandma Hatsu, his expression varied from happy to sad to lonely.

"Once a week we would go to a place called Hanakame in Honda Plaza to eat tempura soba. There was a girl there who was about the same age as Kotaro now."

Grandpa said, placing his hand on my head.

"But on the way home, we would rent videos from Sun Video, two doors down from the store. Hatsu would always rent TV dramas, and my grandfather would rent period dramas. But when we got home, we would always argue about which one to watch first, and we always ended up watching Hatsu's drama first."

My grandfather seemed a little sulky.

"On a hot day like today, we eat shaved ice at the counter of Mikawaya. The strawberry flavored shaved ice we both ordered was delicious. It's the store where I often buy sakura mochi, Kotaro's favorite."

Even now, my mother buys sakura mochi for us when the season comes around, but in the past my grandparents would often buy them for us.

"Kotaro also liked Kashiwamochi from Fugetsudo. No matter how old you are, you always have Kashiwamochi on Boys' Festival."

Saying that, my grandfather burst out laughing.

"I also like Kouraku's ramen!"

"That's right, we all used to go to Koraku together. There used to be a photo studio called Kimuraya next to Koraku, and my grandfather wanted a Leica camera he saw there. It was expensive so he just looked at it. Then Hatsu bought it for my grandfather for his birthday. I had never been happier than that. But that was my grandfather's last birthday with Hatsu..."

A tear fell from my grandfather's eye.

"When Hatsu was in hospital, it was their 60th wedding anniversary. Grandpa went to Mikiseki in Honda Plaza and bought a diamond ring. The attendant recommended that he buy a diamond for his 60th anniversary. When Grandpa went to the hospital and showed the ring to Hatsu, she clutched the box containing the ring preciously and said, 'I was so happy,' then closed her eyes and never opened them."

I felt sad when I saw my grandfather's profile. I looked up at him. He looked at me and smiled.

"What a face to make, let's smile and go pray."

Grandpa took my hand and helped me to my feet, and we looked around the surrounding area before entering the temple.

"Things have changed, but it's a good time now. People of all races are having fun together. It's different from when Grandpa was Kotaro's age. The town has changed and it's lonely, but there are good things too. It's a time when everyone can come together."

Saying this, my grandfather took my hand.

"Grandpa, are you lonely because you can't see Grandma?"

Grandpa laughed and answered.

"No, I see him every day."

I was puzzled by that answer, but I nodded.

Before entering the temple, my grandfather gave me an offering.

"Put this in the offering box."

"Okay, thank you."

The temple smelled of incense. I loved the smell of incense. Whenever I went to my grandfather's house, I could smell incense. My grandfather took my hand and we stopped in front of the offering box.

"Put your offering in and put your hands together properly."

I did as I was told, put my offering in the offering box, put my hands together, closed my eyes and looked down, and then my grandfather murmured to me in a small voice.

"Kotaro, do you know what Obon is for?"

With my hands together, I opened my eyes and looked up at my grandfather.

"To meet the person I love."

Grandpa said with a smile. He took my hand and we walked together outside the temple.

"Today was the most fun day I've ever had."

My grandfather said that, and just as I was about to say, "Me too!"


I heard my mom's voice and turned around. She climbed the steps of the temple and took my hand.

"Where have you been? You're not around anymore. I thought you were going out with friends, but no one said they'd seen you."

"I was with my grandfather."

I said and looked in the direction of my grandfather. But... he wasn't there.

"What? My grandfather was there."

When I said that and looked at Mom, she was looking down.


Mom looked up at me with a face full of tears and a smile, her face bright red.

"So, was it fun?"

I didn't really understand what she meant. I wondered why she was crying. But she was laughing, so I laughed too.

"Yeah! It was fun!"

*This story won the grand prize in the Japanese section of the Little Tokyo Historical Society 's 3rd Annual Short Story Contest.

© 2016 Shirley Watanabe-Nishida

Buddhism California families fiction Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest (series) Little Tokyo Los Angeles Obon religions United States
About this series

The Little Tokyo Historical Society’s third short story contest has concluded with more creative stories related to the Little Tokyo community. As in the previous year, there were winners in the English language category, the Japanese language, and also the Youth category with cash prizes for the First Place winners. This year there was a special donation made by the Bunkado gift shop located in Little Tokyo in celebration of Bunkado’s 70th Anniversary of doing business after World War II.


Runner Ups

  • English Language Category: “Merry Christmas Mario-san” by Rubén Guevara
  • Youth Category: “Home is Little Tokyo” by Yuriko Chavez
  • Japanese Language Category:
    • “Father & Daughter and Little Tokyo” by Akira Tsurukame
    • “Fusion City” by Takiko Morimoto

*Read stories from other Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contests:

1st Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
2nd Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
4th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
5th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
6th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
7th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
8th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
9th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
10th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>
11th Annual Imagine Little Tokyo Short Story Contest >>

Learn More
About the Author

Born and raised in Los Angeles. Lived in Little Tokyo as a child and attended Lumbini Kindergarten. Moved to the downtown area when she was in the second grade, and frequently visited Little Tokyo to help her mother with grocery shopping. Started working at Japanese Village Plaza in 2010. Started writing as a hobby in middle school, and became fascinated with reading books in both English and Japanese as an adult.

(Updated September 2016)

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