Bon Dance in Hawaii With a Vengeance | Must See In 2023

Bon Dance in Hawaii With a Vengeance | Must See In 2023

If your Hawaii vacation is coming up between May and August in 2023 or any year, don’t miss out on one of our top-pick Hawaii festivals. Bon Dance (or, more technically, Obon) occurs here in Hawaii during the summer and is an unforgettable cultural activity for the entire family.

This Japanese Buddhist tradition to honor the spirits of ancestors has been going on for over 500 years. The word “Bon” (ぼん or 盆) means lantern, and the “o” (お), when used, is an honorific. It can be translated as The Lantern Festival or The Festival of the Dead and is a celebration of life and an honoring of ancestors.

After a two-year hiatus of in-person events, Bon Dance festivals returned to most islands last summer, and there will be even more events this year. So include this in your summer plans because Hawaii Bon Dance is back!

Bon Dance in Hawaii is when the spirits of ancestors return to be with family and friends. At the end of Obon season, floating lanterns are traditionally put into rivers, lakes, and seas to guide the spirits back into their world.

In Hawaii, each island has outdoor Bon Dance celebrations at the local Hongwanji (Buddhist temple) or park. Everyone is invited to attend and take part in the festival.

Enjoy watching the dance participants, listening to musicians, including taiko drummers, and seeing hundreds of beautiful hanging lamps. Many dancers wear traditional kimonos, but that isn’t a requirement, and newcomers are most welcome. The circular dances take place around an outdoor Yagura platform.

You’ll also find traditional Japanese food booths, crafts, and more as part of Obon festivities.

Don’t be shy – come one, come all, and enjoy Bon Dance in Hawaii. Everyone is welcome, and there’s no cost for admission. If you’d like to get a head start and learn some of the dance movements, you can register for a free Zoom Bon Dance class on May 23, sponsored by AARP.

Bon Dance Oahu

There will be ten Bon Dances on Oahu, each at a different location, starting on Saturday, June 3, at Hawaii’s Plantation Village, and ending on Saturday, August 19, at the Jodo Mission of Hawaii. Dates and locations may be subject to change.

Bon Dance Kauai – The Soto Zen Bon Festival.

After three years with limited Bon Dance and a big community event last year, the Kauai Bon Dance season is finally back in full swing. Friday and Saturday night events will be at each of the six locations, starting on June 9 and 10 at Kapa’a Hongwanji and ending on July 28 and 29 at Waimea Higashi Hongwanji.

The event at the Kauai Soto Zen temple in Hanapepe is the one your editors typically attend. It is an excellent opportunity to see traditional dances and try traditional bon dance food, including recent additions such as the “flying saucer,” a favorite local tradition that started here in Hanapepe over 70 years ago. Another traditional Bon Dance favorite we look forward to is Andagi, or “Okinawan doughnuts.”

Bon Dance Maui – Waiting for the schedule to be released. Stay tuned.

Bon Dance Big Island

A definitive schedule for Big Island Bon Dances has not been published yet. Still, a working schedule indicates that they will begin on Sunday, May 28, at Hawaii Care Choices in Reeds Bay (Hilo) and wrap up on Saturday, September 16, at the Pahala Hongwanji Mission.

Bon Dance Lanai and Molokai

Both islands typically have one Bon Dance each, at the Molokai Guzeiji Soto Mission and the Lanai Honwanji Buddhist Temple, respectively.

Have you enjoyed a Bon Dance on your Hawaii vacation? If so, please share your experiences.

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4 thoughts on “Bon Dance in Hawaii With a Vengeance | Must See In 2023”

  1. I would be interested in attending this. It is a nice way to pay tribute to your deceased loved ones. I especially like the lanterns in the water. A Chinese woman said her family had paper versions of the things their deceased grandmother might want. They burned them and the smoke sent them to her.

  2. Loved the video. Attended Obon Odori in JapanTown in San Jose CA in the late ’50’s as I was dating a student on the vaunted Judo team coached by the esteemed Yosh Uchida. Believe the celebration is still going on yearly at the Buddhist Temple. Japanese culture is alive & well in California

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