In Hawai’i, just about every weekend from June – August, you can find a Bon Dance going on. Obon is a Japanese Buddhist tradition to honor those who have passed on before us.
Instead of a somber tribute, Obon is a celebration of life. As an event marking the summer, Obon festivals are like family reunions, traditionally bringing people back to their ancestral homelands. People visit and clean the graves of their departed loved ones and celebrate their lives as a means of strengthening family bonds.
This tradition has been observed for over 500 years in Japan. In Hawaii, the Obon tradition dates back more than 100 years. As many Japanese immigrants came to the islands to work on the plantations, the management made sure that the religious and social needs of the workers and their families were met. Therefore, many of the traditions from the homeland were carried on and encouraged in their new home of Hawai’i.
What is Bon Dancing?
Bon Odori, or Bon dance, refers to the style of group dancing performed at the Obon festival. Performers dance in a circle around a raised wooden scaffold decorated to house drummers and singers. This structure is known as yagura. The dancing area is usually roped off and lanterns are strung overhead. These lanterns are a beacon for the deceased to come and join the celebration.
Bon dancers in traditional Kimono (left); The yagura is the centerpiece of Bon Dance festivities (right)
My favorite things about Bon dances are the colorful kimono, taiko drummers, and of course…the food! Sushi, pronto pops, chicken and beef sticks, and flying saucers are staples at the food booth. All proceeds go to support each temple or mission.
What better way to spend a summer’s eve than watching the dancers sway to the beat of taiko drums and listening to Japanese folk songs? This is another example of Hawai’i's diverse people and how it truly is a “melting pot” and melding of cultures.
A Taiko drummer
The 2012 Bon Dance Schedule
- June 22 & 23: Kaua’i Soto Zen Temple
- June 29 & 30: Koloa Jodo Mission
- July 13 & 14: West Kaua’i Hanapepe Hongwanji
- July 20 & 21: Lihu’e Hongwanji
- July 27 & 28: Waimea Shingon Mission
- Aug. 3 & 4: Kapa’a Jodo Mission
- Aug. 10 & 11: West Kaua’i Waimea Hongwanji
- Aug. 17: Kaua’i Veterans Memorial Hospital
We welcome you to our island home, whether for a few days or for a lifetime, to experience the wonderful lifestyle Kaua’i has to offer. For information on Kaua’i homes and land, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 808.635.5525.