With long blond hair, steel-blue eyes, and a traditional Japanese yukata robe, Patrizio Pellouchoud blends right in.

Moving his arms rhythmically with more than 100 others, he celebrated the Buddhist holiday of Obon through folk dance, which he called a spiritual "way of looking back to look forward."

"It's fun, because nobody's telling you you're making a wrong move" he said.

Fifty years ago, Pellouchoud would have been the blond head in a sea of black-haired Japanese dancers, but the times are changing, said Emiko Katsumoto, 64, who attends the Berkeley Buddhist Temple.

"When I was a young girl, it was all Japanese," she said.

Now Pellouchoud, who attends service at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple, is among a multi-ethnic array of dancers: black, white, Asian, Hispanic and mixtures in between.

Founded in 1911, the Berkeley Buddhist Temple has been an enduring fixture of the Japanese-American community in Berkeley, but it also contains a long history of a trend toward multi-ethnic inclusion.

In the 1960s, the Berkeley Buddhist Temple founded the Buddhist Study Center, which attracted UC Berkeley students and non-Japanese Berkeley locals, including Beat Generation poet Gary Snyder. The center published a Buddhist journal, Busei, which featured poetry by young, non-Japanese American Buddhists, said Reverend David Matsumoto of the temple.

Snyder's friendship with Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac was portrayed in the book "The Dharma Bums." Snyder was portrayed as Japhy, a Berkeley resident studying Buddhism.

Since then, temple members have noticed an increasing number of newer members are not fully Japanese and some are not even Japanese at all, said Emiko Katsumoto.

Matsumoto said Buddhism has an appeal that goes beyond racial boundaries.

"It's part of a spiritual movement beyond a purely materialistic world," he said.

He cites the growing number of so-called "nightstand Buddhists" in the United States, who are people who read and study Buddhist practices without necessarily identifying themselves as worshipping Buddhists.

"There's more of a willingness among Americans to sample (different religions)," he said.

Another element of racial diversification is an increase in inter-racial marriage within the community.

"I guess you could say I married into it," said Craig Griffin, 52, as he watched his mixed-race daughter prepare for the dance festival. "Berkeley is the miscegenation capital of the world," he joked.

The youngest generation of Japanese Buddhists at the temple is not only mixed-race, said Katsumoto, as she stood in the temple's library, many of them do not understand the Japanese language as well. The majority of the books at the temple's library are written in English.

"There are changes with our children; they're moving further out, merging into the mainstream," she said.

She pointed out that the current temple, erected in the '60s, was built with Christian-inspired pews, an organ and a piano. Matsumoto attributes the changes in language and religious custom to a "concession to American life."

The community has been adaptive to concession and change. Matsumoto pointed out that "Buddhism is a way of life that gives greater emphasis on an inclusive perspective."

Obon festival dancer Devyn Wells said she thought the beautiful part of the dance was how inclusive it was. Any audience member could join.

"The beauty of the dance is that you can just dive in," said Wells.

By Matthew Peters

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