Bon Odori…in Hawaii we call it Bon Dance!

Obon or simply Bon is a Japanese Buddhist custom honoring the spirits of one’s ancestors who are no longer with us. This custom is still practiced in Japan and is a family reunion. People return to their family home to get reacquainted, visit and clean their ancestors’ graves and await the return of their ancestors’ spirits. This custom is also known as the Feast of Lanterns because at the end of Obon, usually held in mid August, paper lanterns are illuminated and floated down rivers. This symbolizes the return of the ancestors’ spirits to the world of the dead.

Hawaii has been celebrating Obon for many years in the form of a festive Bon Odori or Bon Dance. There are many Buddhist temples in Hawaii and each summer from June through August many of them have Bon Dances on the weekends. The local community anxiously waits for the Bon Dance schedule to come out. Hard to believe that this summer there are over 30 Bon Dances just in Honolulu! The festivities are fun for the whole family. There’s plenty to eat, many traditional Japanese food, and you can practice your bon dance to the music and beat of the drums.

Honolulu Weekly, a free publication geared towards the young audience, promotes Bon Dance with a full page layout. And according to the writer it is best to dance in the inner circle closest to the professional dancers so that you can learn the dances quickly and become real good at it. That’s determination!

The Koganji Temple Bon Dance was held on Friday and Saturday, August 1st and 2nd from 5:30 to 10:30 P.M. at 2869 Oahu Avenue in Manoa Valley. This beautiful temple is located on the slopes of Manoa Valley. There’s a large parking lot on the top and as you walk down you will see the main temple. And that is where the Bon Dance is held.

Their official name is beautifully displayed in Japanese kanji characters.

On the grounds you will see an area dedicated to the “Ojizou-san”, Ksitigarbha (bodhisattva who looks over children, travelers and the underworld).
And the offering
s include andagi (Okinawan donuts), chichidango (sweet rice cakes) and plate lunches. So local!

These are mini “ojizou-san”.

The landscape is immaculate and the gardens are heavenly.

There are many temples in Hawaii and many other bon dances but somehow the Manoa Koganji Temple makes you fee l spiritual and refr eshed. Perhaps it is due to itslocation and the total atmosphere of the surroundings.

A commencement prayer is read as members bow their heads.And then the Bon Dance begins!
Participants wear yukata (cotton kimono) and happi (happi co
ats) and dance around the yagura which is a high wooden scaffold/bandstand where the musicians and singers perform their Obon music. The dance steps are quite easy to learn for each of the songs. Usually the Bon Dance association members who have been dancing each year will teach the other participants and repeat the dances so that everyone can practice. It is really a lot of fun. I particularly recall watching the Hawaii teenagers enjoying the dance steps and jazzing it up to resemble a line dance something similar to the Electric Slide! This is a true example of “cultural exchange”! The music that is played is not limited to traditional Obon music and Japanese folk songs. New tunes focusing on kids anime such as Pokemon are also popular.

The Pokemon Dance

There was also a Children’s Lantern Parade and Taiko (Japanese drum) performance. Food booths offered local and traditional food including grilled corn-on-the-cob, andagi (Okinawan donuts), bento(Japanese box lunches), yakisoba (fried noodles), and plate lunches (local version).

What a wonderful way to spend an evening in Honolulu…Bon Dance at the Manoa Koganji Temple.

The Bon Dance season during Hawaii’s summer is a cultural event that you won’t want to miss.

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