Taiko drums are played during the bon dance at the Kohala Hongwanji Mission on July 6. (ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
The Kohala Hongwanji Mission hosted a bon dance on July 6. Participating temples around the island will be hosting dances on select dates in July and August. (ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
People of all ages come together to enjoy the community event at the Kohala Hongwanji Mission on July 6. (ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Community members participate in the bon dance at The Kohala Hongwanji Mission on July 6. Participating temples around the island will be hosting dances on select dates in July and August. (ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Families and community members of all ages enjoy the bon dance last year at Honokaa Hongwanji. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Ocean Yagi joins in the fun at last year’s bon dance at Honokaa Hongwanji. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
During the memorial service at Honokaa Hongwanji last year, family and friends offer incense to honor departed loved ones. (PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Every culture honors the departed, but on the Big Island, loved ones are especially memorialized during Obon season. And, from the June 8 kickoff by the Kona Hongwanji at Keauhou Shopping Center in Kealakekua, to the final Aug. 21 events at Honohina Hongwanji in Ninole, colorful community celebrations fill every Saturday of summer with clamorous drums and music, festive foods and happy feet.
Bon odori, or bon dance, is a traditional Buddhist style of folk dancing, accompanied by taiko drums and music, often performed by groups in colorful happi coats to represent different temples. Bon dance is part of a longer festival called Obon, a Japanese interpretation of the Sanskrit word “ullambana,” which implies great suffering.
How does that translate into dancing and eating? It starts with a 7th century story from India, about a Buddhist monk, Maha Maudgalyayana (Mokuren) whose deceased mother appeared before him as a starving ghost. Try as he might, he was unable to feed her until the Buddha showed him the proper way. When she was liberated from suffering, Mokuren danced for joy—soon joined by fellow villagers.
Obon came to Hawaii in the late 1800’s with the waves of immigrant sugar cane plantation workers, followed by Buddhist ministers from Japan who began establishing temples throughout the territory. Although WWII created anti-Japanese sentiments that nearly eliminated the tradition, Japanese-American veterans’ groups revived bon dance to honor Hawaii’s war dead in 1951.
Today, there are 120 scheduled Obon festivals statewide, 30 of those on the Big Island, with 10 remaining on the North Hawaii schedule (see below.) In each community, Obon continues to “nourish” the memory and the contributions of the departed, with family reunions, memorial temple services, lively bon dances, festive food and beautiful lantern floating ceremonies.
In Honokaa, the Hongwanji will celebrate its 110th Annual Memorial Service and Bon Dance this year on July 20, and the entire community is invited to join. Unique to Honokaa, families and friends of any faith are encouraged to submit names of loved ones who have passed away in the last 12 months to be honored during the ceremony.
Names may be submitted in advance to Reverend Kosho Yagi at 775 7232, or by email at KosmosHI@gmail.com. But even without advance arrangements, anyone can honor loved ones near the end of the ceremony. During the memorial service, when the person’s name is called, anyone may step forward with friends and family to offer a small amount of incense, which is provided, with aloha.
“The emcee will call for those who lost loved ones this past year to please come up and make offering of incense,” Yagi said. “Some people come only for the services, but we invite everyone to join the dance and the food concessions, and enjoy being together as a community.”
“We all identify with one another regarding the universal experience of loss through the death of a loved one,” said Miles Okumura, Hongwanji member and the Honokaa Peace Day Parade Committee chairman. “When the community gathers at this event, people are reminded that while no one is left untouched by such sorrow, we receive comfort through the intense emotional connection and are strengthened by awareness of our interdependence.”
North Hawaii’s upcoming memorial services and bon dances are listed below. Admission is free, and all are welcome.
• Kohala Jodo Mission: 7 p.m., July 13, Kapaau; service at 6 p.m. Call 775-0965.
• Paauilo Hongwanji Mission: 7 p.m. July 13, 43-1477 Hauola Rd.; service at 6 p.m. Call 775-7232.
• Honokaa Hongwanji Mission: 7 p.m. July 20, 45-516 Lehua St.; service at 6 p.m. Call 775-7232.
• Papaaloa Hongwanji Mission: 6 p.m. July 27; service at 5 p.m. Call 962-6340.
• Hawi Jodo Mission: 7 p.m. Aug. 3, 55-1104 Akoni Pule Hwy.; service at 5:30 p.m. Call 775-0965.
• Paauilo Kongoji Mission: 7 p.m. Aug. 3, 43-1461 Hauola Rd.; service at 5 p.m. Call 963-6308.
• Hamakua Jodo Mission: 7 p.m. Aug. 10, in Honokaa; service at 6 p.m. Call 775-0965.
• Kamuela Hongwanji Mission: 7 p.m. Aug. 17, 65-1110 Mamalahoa Hwy.; service at 6 p.m. Call 775-7232.
• Hakalau Jodo Mission: 8 p.m. Aug. 17; service at 7 p.m. Call 935-6996.
• Honohina Hongwanji Mission: 7 p.m. Aug. 31 in Ninole; service at 6 p.m. Call 963-6032.