Obon festivals are a Japanese Buddhist custom meant to celebrate the spirits of ancestors.
While Obon festivals and Bon dances have come to be viewed as nearly synonymous, Bon dances are actually just one facet of Obon festivals. In Hawai‘i, the Bon dance — the celebratory dance performed at an Obon Festival — has taken on a cultural significance of its own.
A Bon dance is a place where people of any ethnicity, religion or cultural background can celebrate with food, dance, traditional clothes, activities and family. Foods that can be found at Bon dances in Hawai‘i range from summer favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers to local staples such as shave ice, saimin and Okinawan donuts, known as “andagi.”
When I was younger and would attend Bon dances, my mom would make me wear my “happi” coat, a shorter version of a kimono, which I thought was a happy coat and meant I was not allowed to frown. But who would think to frown while surrounded by music and dance to celebrate and honor your ancestors?
If you notice a raised stage or tower at the Bon dance, that is the “yagura”; it houses the musicians and is usually what the bon dancers can be found dancing around. The yagura will most likely be decorated with lanterns known as “chochin.”
There are seven Bon dance clubs in Hawai‘i that will help at each festival. On these dancers you may see fans, known as “uchiwa,” used as props during the dance or to help people cool off during the hot summer nights. The “tenugui,” small towels, are used in the same way as either dance props or to help keep the sweat away as you dance.
Now that you know a little more about the Bon dance and the traditions behind it, go find the one nearest you and join in on the fun.
2017 Bon Dance Schedule:
Ewa Hongwanji Mission: June 17, 7 - 10 p.m., 91-1133 Renton Rd.
Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin: June 23 - 24, 6 p.m., 1727 Pali Hwy.
Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission: June 23 - 24, 7 p.m., 1067 California Ave.
Moiliili Hongwanji Mission: June 30 - July 1 (as part of the Mō‘ili‘ili Summer Fest), 5 - 10 p.m., 1100 University Ave.
Sixth annual Mō‘ili‘ili Summer Fest: July 1, 5 - 10 p.m., Coyne St. between University Avenue and Kai‘ali‘u Street will be closed. Free parking at UH-Manoa with shuttle service from 4 to 10:30 p.m.
Kaneohe Higashi Hongwanji: July 1, 6:30 p.m., 45-520 Kea‘ahala Rd.
Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Church of Hawaii: July 7 - 8, 6:30 - 9:30 p.m., 2280 ‘Auhuhu St.
Koboji Shingon Mission: July 7 - 8, 7 p.m., 1223B N. School St. Parking at Damien Memorial School
Shinshu Kyokai Mission: July 7 - 8, 7 - 10:30 p.m., 1631 S. Beretania St.
Haleiwa Shingon Mission: July 7 - 8, 7:30 - 10:30 p.m., 66-469 Pa‘ala‘a Rd.
Waipahu Hongwanji Mission: July 8, 7 p.m., 94-821 Kuhaulua St.
Seicho-No-Ie Hawaii: July 9, 12:30 - 2:30 p.m., Jisso Center, 47-451 Hui Aeko Pl.
Jikoen Hongwanji Mission: July 14, 6 - 9:30 p.m., and July 15, 5:30 - 9:30 p.m., 1731 N. School St.
Higashi Hongwanji Betsuin: July 14 - 15, 7 p.m., 1685 Alaneo St.
Kailua Hongwanji Mission: July 22, 7 p.m., 268A Kuulei Rd.
Palolo Hongwanji: July 28 - 29, 6:30 p.m., 1641 Pālolo Ave.
Koganji Temple: Aug. 4 - 5, 5 - 10 p.m., 2869 O‘ahu Ave.
Valley of the Temples Memorial Park: Aug. 5, Byodo-in Temple, 47-200 Kahekili Hwy.
Shingon Shu Hawaii: Aug. 11 - 12, 6:30 - 10 p.m., 915 Sheridan St. Free parking at HMSA building after 5 p.m.
Jodo Mission of Hawaii: Aug. 18 - 19, 6:30 - 9:30 p.m., 1429 Makiki St.
Soto Mission of Hawaii/Shoboji: Aug. 18 - 19, 7 - 10 p.m., 1708 Nu‘uanu Ave.
Nichiren Mission of Hawaii: Aug. 26, 6 - 9 p.m., 33 Pulelehua Way
Kapahulu Center: Aug. 26, 6 p.m., 3410 Campbell Ave.