If your Hawaii vacation is between June and August, this year or any year, don’t miss one of our favorite Hawaii festivals. Bon Dance (or more technically, Obon) takes place worldwide. 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, the “o” (お) can be like an honorific. It can translate to mean The Lantern Festival or The Festival of the Dead and is a celebration of life. So come on down, real Bon Dance Hawaii is returning!
This is the first year that’ll see the return of Bon Dance, following a two-year, first-ever hiatus. And with the return comes a very special 5-day festival on Kauai, that we plan to attend.
Bon Dance in Hawaii takes place during the summer months, which are considered when spirits of ancestors return to be with family and friends. At the end of Obon season, floating lanterns are put into rivers, lakes, and seas to guide the spirits back into their world.
In Hawaii, each of the islands has outdoor Bon Dance celebrations at the local Hongwanji (Buddhist temple). Everyone is invited to attend and take part in the festival. Enjoy watching the dance participants, listening to musicians including the 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.
As part of Obon festivities, you’ll also find traditional Japanese food booths, crafts, and more.
Don’t be shy – come one, come all and enjoy Bon Dance in Hawaii. Everyone is welcome and there’s no cost to admission.
Bon Dance Oahu
There will be twelve Bon Dances starting June 4 and ending on August 27. You can find the Bon Dance Oahu schedule of events here. The first event will be held at Hawaii Plantation Village and the final dance of the season will be at the Aiea Hongwanji Mission. Dates and locations subject to change.
Bon Dance Maui
You can find the Bon Dance Maui schedule of events here. The first dance of the season was on June 11 at the Puunēne Nichiren Mission and the concluding dance will take place on August 27 at Kula’s Shofukuji Mission.
Bon Dance Kauai – The Soto Zen Bon Festival.
While sadly, there’ll be no island-wide Bon Dance schedule for Kauai again this year, there’s a great surprise. From June 15 through June 19, Hanapepe’s Soto Zen Temple in concert with the Hawaii Tourism Authority, will hold this unique event called “Celebrating The Spirit of Obon.” Daily activities include bon dance workshops for beginners and special events include taiko drumming and a fire burning ceremony. More than 500 lanterns will decorate the traditional temple grounds.
The event at Hanapepe, which your editors typically attend, will be unique this year. Instead of it being a two-night event, it will occur during the day, from noon to dusk on five consecutive days. More information is available at kauaisotozen.org. Additional cultural performances will take place on the last two days Saturday and Sunday. Traditional bon dance food will be available, including the Flying Saucer, a long-standing tradition which started here more than 70 years ago. One Bon Dance food favorite we look forward to is Andagi (Okinawan doughnuts).
Bon Dance Big Island
The Big Island schedule for Bon Dance can be found here. The first Big Island dance will take place July 16 at Honokaa Hongwanji Mission, and the last event for this year will be on July 23 at the Hilo Taishoji Soto Mission.
Bon Dance Lanai and Molokai
Both islands typically have one Bon Dance each.