In Obon is a Buddhist custom that originated more than 500 years ago in Japan and came to Hawaii with the Japanese immigrant workers of the nineteenth century. Japanese Buddhism is a major ingredient in the stew pot of flavors that form modern Hawaii culture. And Obon is celebrated as a time to remember your ancestors. As a result, these festivals are very family-oriented activities; and they’re often attended by three or even four generations within each family! Each weekend throughout the summer, one or more of the Japanese Buddhist temples (and some other organizations) throughout Hawaii hosts a festival.
The Bon dance itself is perhaps adequately described as line dancing (like you would do at a disco or a honkey tonk or a high school dance) but in a circle. The key difference here, however, is the music. You probably won’t hear The Hustle or The Electric Slide. But you will hear approximately three hours of distinctly-non-club-mix music – some live, and some recorded; some traditional, and some less so.
Enjoy a glimpse of the 2019 Bon Dance, courtesy of Hakalau resident Julie Goettsch.
In 2014, photographer Valerie Kim captured the spirit of the Hakalau Jodo Mission's Bon Dance. First, folks practice in the Social Hall, then they dance outside beneath the lanterns, and eat...whenever.
Listen to a sample of the music from the 2013 Hakalau Bon Dance below:
Chris Nishioka on YouTube Published on Aug 18, 2013. A great night with some very interesting music. A blend of traditional and modern music combined with seniors and youths.... Hakalau's Obon is definitely not your traditional bon dance! See for yourself!
In Hawaii, the Bon dance is enhanced by the addition of folksongs reflecting the plantation experience. To learn more about some of the canefield songs used for bon dance, explained in the PBS Hawaii documentary, Canefield Songs: Holehole Bushi, presented below.