In this Year of the Dragon, the heat was appropriately scorching on Saturday for the opening day of Sacramento's 66th annual Japanese Food and Cultural Bazaar.
Despite the triple-digit temperatures, the masses showed up hungry and festive at the Sacramento Buddhist Temple on Riverside Boulevard near X Street. The line for the bazaar's chicken teriyaki booth snaked well into the parking lot and was over 100 people deep by a 100-degree early afternoon.
Cooking all that food was a kind of endurance test, with more than 2 tons of rice and 10 tons of chicken expected to be consumed by the bazaar's conclusion tonight. Organizers expect attendance to reach well over 20,000, with hundreds of volunteers helping to run the event.
So, how about spending a hot afternoon inside a stuffy, smoky room where a couple of hundred pounds of charcoal fuel two 40-foot grilling pits? Most volunteers said they couldn't be happier, even though they had to get up at 2 a.m. to light charcoal and prepare food.
"It's a lot of hard work but a lot of fun," said James Amioka, who co-chairs the chicken teriyaki booth with his brother Mark. "We work, we eat, we drink. For us, it's a big party."
The church-sponsored bazaar has become one of Sacramento's signature cultural events. Along with its popular food booths, including tempura, beef teriyaki sandwiches and sushi, the bazaar showcases traditional Japanese music and dancing. Displays also include the Japanese floral art known as ikebana, calligraphy and handcrafted Japanese dolls.
Proceeds from the bazaar go to the Buddhist Church of Sacramento's general fund. Some of those monies were used to renovate the large canopy that shades festivalgoers in the bazaar's main seating area.
The weather often has a significant influence on attendance, said bazaar chairman Sherman Iida. A slight attendance boost has occurred since the California State Fair was pushed back to July and didn't run at the same time as the bazaar.
Even with this weekend's triple-digit heat, attendance looked strong.
"The weather hadn't been as hot for the last 10 years," said Iida. "So, if it's hot once every 10 years I won't complain. The lines are still some of the longest I've ever seen."
Beyond all the feasting, the bazaar is a kind of homecoming for Sacramento's long-standing Japanese American community. The Buddhist Church of Sacramento also serves as home base for youth sports programs, a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout troop, and it's been a temple for spiritual guidance since 1899.
Through all the lines and crowded corridors, plenty of handshakes and hugs were exchanged. That's the kind of spirit that calls Claire Umeda back to her hometown each year to volunteer at the bazaar, no matter how hot it may be. She now lives in San Jose but always marks the second weekend in August on her calendar for the bazaar.
"I've been coming here ever since I can remember," said Umeda, while serving somen and other food items. "I'm here for the community and the family. It's such a wonderful event."
Kaori Kubota-Sakauye, above, a leader of the Koyasan Taiko group, plays a flute Saturday at the Japanese Food and Cultural Bazaar. At right, Amy Ishimoto, left, and Sandi Kawamura prepare udon at the annual festival. Organizers expect 20,000 attendees to polish off more than 2 tons of rice and 10 tons of chicken by the end of the event tonight.
66th ANNUAL JAPANESE FOOD & CULTURAL BAZAAR
When: Noon to 9 p.m. today
Where: Buddhist Church of Sacramento, 2401 Riverside Blvd.
Cost: Free admission; food priced individually
Note: A free shuttle will run to the bazaar from Seventh and W streets.
Information: (916) 446-0121