Buddhist Church of Sacramento celebrates 70th anniversary of annual bazaar

The Buddhist Church of Sacramento held its second bazaar in 1948.
The Buddhist Church of Sacramento held its second bazaar in 1948. Courtesy of Marian Uchida

In 1947, Marian Uchida was a student at Sacramento High School and especially active in the Buddhist Church of Sacramento’s basketball league. World War II had ended a few years earlier, and like so many other Japanese Americans at the time, Uchida and her family were readjusting to civilian life after their forced relocation to internment camps that uprooted families and destroyed businesses.

The first Buddhist Church of Sacramento bazaar was founded that year, and it was just the kind of event that the local Japanese American community needed to strengthen its bonds. Families munched on hot dogs and sushi and played bingo and other games to raise money for the church and its youth basketball programs.

Seven decades later, that spirit of fun and camaraderie remains. The Buddhist Church of Sacramento celebrates its 70th annual bazaar on Saturday, Aug. 13, and Sunday, Aug. 14, with a weekend of food, merriment and Japanese entertainment. The bazaar has since grown into a signature Sacramento event, one attended by more than 40,000 people annually, where the air smells of savory teriyaki chicken, and taiko drums pound from the stage.

“It’s a nice, good activity that’s supported us all through the years,” said Uchida, who is now 84 and lives in Land Park. “It helped us socialize, and we learned to help each other. It’s become a draw for the (larger) community. They see a side of Japanese life that they may not have known.”

The original bazaar was held about 1 1/2 miles away from the Buddhist Church of Sacramento’s current home on Riverside Boulevard near the W-X freeway. Previously at Fourth and O streets, the Buddhist church was in Sacramento’s original Japan Town. The bazaar was primarily an indoor affair in those early years, and held in the kaikan, or assembly hall, which was also used for basketball games, talent shows and other activities.

Bob Oshita, who is retiring after 32 years as the church’s reverend, said he believes the bazaar emerged as a key way for people to gather in friendship as the Japanese American community fragmented. Sacramento’s Japan Town, already reeling from the thousands of locals who were sent to internment camps, was ultimately bulldozed as the area was targeted in the 1950s by the city’s Redevelopment Agency.

“To me, the bazaar is a weekend rebirth of what was once Japan Town, like a phoenix rising,” Oshita said. “Every little food booth is like a little restaurant. It’s a beautiful thing that’s come out of unfortunate times.”

The bazaar continued to grow after the church relocated to Riverside Boulevard in 1959, with the event attracting others outside the Japanese American community. Hundreds of volunteers help run the bazaar, a force that includes current churchgoers as well as former parishioners who’ve moved out of town but return each summer to work at the event.

“I’ve heard the stories of what the bazaar was like before, that it was a cute event,” Oshita said. “Around the 1960s it really exploded as the nisei, or second generation, took over. I’ve watched it over the years and learned the bazaar has a life of its own. It’s very much a homecoming.”

The bazaar now encompasses most of its church grounds on Riverside Boulevard. A large outdoor patio, part of which normally serves as a parking lot, operates as the bazaar’s main hub. That’s where the lines grow for the bazaar’s signature chicken teriyaki and other Japanese foods including tempura, somen and sushi. A nearby stage hosts Japanese folk dancers, taiko drumming and other Japanese-themed performing arts as crowds gather at long community tables to eat and enjoy.

Even more Japanese culture can be explored inside the church facilities, including displays of Japanese calligraphy, intricate handmade dolls and flower arrangements. The chapel also hosts its own performances of traditional Japanese dance and music, a bit of tranquility that’s accompanied by much-appreciated air conditioning as the festivities roll along outside.

No matter how many years have passed, the bazaar still feels like home for Uchida, who has developed an interest in gathering historical photos and other mementos from Sacramento’s Japanese American community.

“It’s one of the few activities that holds the Japanese American community together,” she said.

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

Buddhist Church of Sacramento 70th Annual Bazaar

When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13 and Sunday, Aug. 14

Where: Buddhist Church of Sacramento, 2401 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento

Cost: Free

Information: (916) 446-0121, www.buddhistchurch.com/