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O BON Dance Kauai

Here on Kauai we are exceptionally proud of our cultural diversity.  Our “mixed plate” community affords us the opportunity to learn from each other, and share in unique traditions and celebrations from around the world. Summertime, from June to August, is O Bon season. O Bon, or Bon Dance, is a traditional Japanese festival created to honor and celebrate loved ones who have passed on.

O Bon originates from the story of Mokuren, a disciple of Buddha whose mother fell into the realm of the hungry ghosts. Distraught, Mokuren sought Buddha’s assistance, followed the teachings he was given, and released his mother from the dark realm. Upon her release, Mokuren could not contain his joy, and began dancing his bliss. The festival began in Japan over 500 years ago. When Japanese immigrants moved to Kauai to work the pineapple and sugar plantations they recreated the tradition here, and Kauai has been celebrating O Bon ever since. During the weekend-long celebration, musicians perform classic folk songs to the rhythm of taiko drums, as celebrants in traditional dress dance in a circle around them. The occasion is merry and boisterous, and it is believed that the joyful music and exalted dancing lures departed spirits in to see what all the happy commotion is about. This jubilant reunion of the living and departed lasts the entire summer. When O Bon season ends, the haunting Toro Nagashi ritual ushers the departed away again. Toros, or paper lanterns are set alight; with each toro representing a lost loved one. Once lit, the lamps are released into the water, and the ancestors are lovingly sent on their way, until the joy of next year’s Bon Dance calls them back again.

Kauai’s Japanese community cordially invites all residents and visitors to join in the fun and magic of O Bon. Buddhist Temples around the island will be hosting Bon Dances over the course of the summer. Although the dances are the same, each event is unique. You are welcome to come and join the dance, or simply watch. A special folded towel called a choba will be available for those who would like to dance, and it is customary to offer a small donation when receiving your choba. There will be food and game booths on sight as well to add to the festivities.

Bon Dances are held Friday and Saturday nights from 6:30-10:00. Dancing begins at 7:30. Seating is limited at these popular community events, so bring a mat or beach chair if you plan to settle in and stay awhile. The Toro Nagashi event will take place at Kukui‘ula Bay on the Sunday following the last Bon Dance. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to experience a taste of Japanese culture, celebrate the glory of summer, and dance in joyous communion with the spirits of the past.

Kauai O Bon 2012 Schedule

  • June 15-16 (Fri./Sat.): Waimea Higashi Hongwanji, following 6:30 p.m. (808-338-1847)
  • June 22-23 (Fri./Sat.): Kauai Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji, 7 p.m. (808-335-3521)
  • June 29-30 (Fri./Sat.): Koloa Jodo Mission, 7:30 p.m. (808-742-6735)
  • July 13-14 (Fri./Sat.) West Kauai Hongwanji Hanapepe Temple, 7:30 p.m. (808-338-1537)
  • July 20-21 (Fri./Sat.): Lihue Hongwanji, 7:30 p.m. (808-245-6262)
  • July 27-28 (Fri./Sat.): Waimea Shingon Mission, following 7 p.m. service (808-388-1854
  • Aug. 3-4 (Fri./Sat.): Kapaa Jodo Mission, 7:30 p.m. (808-822-4319)
  • Aug. 10-11 (Fri./Sat.): West Kauai Hongwanji Waimea Temple, 7:30 p.m. (808-338-1537)

While you are not at the O Bon Dance festival, relax at the comforts of one of the finest Hawaii luxury homes.