Bon Dance Memories

The Bon Odori Dance is among my favorite summer memories

By Cara Fasone

Honoring my ancestors at the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission’s annual bon dance or obon festival is one of my favorite memories of growing up in Hawaii.

The bon odori dance, a Japanese summer festival in honor of the dead, is tradition for Japanese in Hawaii and around the world. Not only is the bon odori dance about local kine grindz and dancing, but it is also a time for me to celebrate my Japanese heritage (I'm 75% Japanese) and commemorate my ancestors.

My childhood friends and I ready for the Bon Dance (I'm in the top row, in the middle.)
Photo courtesy of Cara Fasone

Small-kid time (my pre-school days), I attended the Moiliili Hongwanji Pre-school, so bon odori dancing has been a tradition for me since before I can remember.

The neighborhood kids and I would get dressed up in traditional kimonos and happi coats and we would walk over to the Hongwanji temple. The sounds of taiko drums and flutes would get louder as we got closer and the wonderful smell of teriyaki bbq sticks on the grill filled the air.

Honolulu Fukushima Bon Dance Club

My favorite songs to dance to were the traditional folk songs performed live by the Honolulu Fukushima Bon Dance Club. The singers, taiko drummers, and flute players would stand on the yagura (raised platform) and the dancers would dance in a circle around them.

As a kid, I would watch the old Japanese lady (she looked about 99-years-old) in the stand sing my favorites, Fukushima Ondo and Yagibushi. I remember her belting out the songs, then climbing down the yagura to smoke a cigarette. She had some pipes!

Bon Odori dancing to one of my favorites
Photo courtesy of Cara Fasone

Fun Times For All

What I love most about the bon odori dance is that although it has Buddhist roots, the celebration is non-denominational and open to all walks of life and skill levels. You don’t need a kimono to dance; anybody and everybody can join in on the fun.

It is nice that young people love to bon dance and celebrate their heritage. The Hongwanji try to keep it hip; I’ve been to bon odori dances where they played Pharrell’s Happy and the fun line dance, the Electric Slide. 

The 2014 Wahiawa Bon Dance
Photo by Cara Fasone

Bon dances are still my favorite part of the summer season. I look forward to the food, music, and most of all the culture.

 What are your favorite bon odori dance memories?

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