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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, July 4, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Lisa Sadoyama, 15, Jaclyn Matayoshi, 16, Jennifer Cho,
16 and Erin Sakai, 15 attend the Moiliili Hongwanji
Mission Bon Dance.


What started out as a religious
celebration to honor the spirits of
loved ones has taken a twist,
turning into a fun, cultural
bridge for young and old

Bon-dance the summer away

By Michelle Ramos
Special to the Star-Bulletin


AS kimono-clad dancers gathered under colorful hanging lanterns behind a paved lot on King Street, a man's voice announced the three rules for people participating in Moiliili Hongwanji Mission's bon dance.

First, yutaka, or hapi coats, are recommended attire, but "if the music grabs you," he said, then by all means, join in the dancing. Second, when swinging your towel or using your fan, don't hit the people around you. Third, have fun.

Within a couple of songs Friday and Saturday night, the yagura (tower) was encircled by a mixture of intricately-dressed dancing groups and people of all ages dressed in jeans and T-shirts.

Encircling them were people standing or sitting on mats, beach chairs or the grass munching on spam musubis, teriyaki sticks, shave ice or other goodies being sold at the concession booth.

Bon dances began as a religious celebration honoring the dead ancestors who return to visit the living. At the beginning of the dance, a minister leads the group in a short service. But what follows is pure fun as the event is being transformed to accommodate a younger generation.

No longer restricted to religious celebration, bon dances also serve as fund-raisers for some temples; a social event for young and old; and an attraction for tourists, with dance clubs being asked to perform at various hotels.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Mari Matsuda , right, and her daughter Kimi Matsuda-Lawrence,
6, practice at the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission
for their first bon dance.

Many of the traditional bon dances told of the hardships of the plantation immigrants. A popular dance is the "Tanko Bushi" or "Coalminer's Dance."

Cara Fasone, 17, of Mililani enjoys the "Tanko Bushi" because it's one of the easiest dances to learn with repetition of a few simple shoveling gestures. Fasone and her friends Jill Bona, 17, of Mililani; Laurie Takase, 18, of Mililani; and Jason Kim, 17, of Ewa Beach, came all the way to town for the dance. Bona and Takase said they enjoy "seeing all the old ladies."

"When they know the song, they all rush up with their things," Takase said.

She and her friends are looking forward to their community's bon dance, coming up Aug. 18 and 19 at Mililani Hongwanji Mission. This event is bigger than Moiliili's and attended by many of their friends.

Bon dance season also gives people something different to do, they said. "It (comes) only once a year," Kim said.

Jennifer Cho, 16, and her friends were dressed for the occasion. Cho wore her grandmother's blue hapi coat and her friend Lisa Sadoyama, 15, had on a red kimono. They dragged their friend Jaclyn Matayoshi, 16, to the Moiliili event. It was Matayoshi's first time. All three Kaneohe girls said they enjoyed themselves.

"It's funny because we're just running into each other and we don't know what we're doing," Cho said.

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Four-year-olds Aimee Takasaki, left, Parker Nakamura
and Brock Haraga show their moves during
their first bon dance.

Matayoshi, a ballet dancer, caught on fast though. "They have a lot of patterns I know which helps me catch on quickly," she said, happy that the older generation has kept the tradition alive.

Betty Dela Cuesta, the choreographer for the mission's bon dances, is among those perpetuating the tradition. She has been teaching the dances for 35 years and every year tries to incorporate several upbeat songs into the lineup of dances to attract young people. This year, she choreographed a Pokemon song for children.

This year's Obon also had a more somber meaning for Dela Cuesta, who lost her daughter in January. She died one week before her 48th birthday from a brain aneurism, said Dela Cuesta, who couldn't eat or sleep for months after her loss. It wasn't until the coming of the Obon season that Dela Cuesta made it a point to "come back."

"I had to get myself together," Dela Cuesta said. Her daughter's spirit would be returning home and Dela Cuesta wanted to do something special for her.

After listening to several songs, Dela Cuesta chose "Natsu Ureshii Ne" to honor her daughter. "The wording fit her perfect," Dela Cuesta said. It talks about summer time and how she's happy because she visits here.

But it was Dela Cuesta's Pokemon song that was a hit with Mari Matsuda's 6-year-old daughter Kimi, who learned the dance at the mission's practices two to three days before the bon dance.

By the night of the event, Kimi had all the steps down and was ready to go. "Last year she was real frustrated," Kimi's grandmother said. But this year she followed along.

Matsuda was raised in Hawaii but lives in Washington D.C. Every summer she returns with her family to expose her children to island culture and to visit relatives.

Like Matsuda, Moea DeFreies, 28, a resident of Kaimuki, wasn't really interested in the bon dances while growing up. "I drove past many bon dances but never stopped. I was always curious though." DeFreies and her friend now want their children to grow up with "a taste of Japanese culture."

Sandi Shibasaki joined Dela Cuesta's Yamada dance group about five months ago. During her childhood she and her family would attend bon dances. "There wasn't much to do," she said. "The whole family would go. It was a community event."

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Sandi Shibasaki, right, shows her bon dance teacher,
Betty Dela Cuesta, what she learned as she attends
her first bon dance at the Moiliili Hongwanji Mission.

Shibasaki said all the families knew each other in the old days but today, the dances bring people of many nationalities and communities together.

Regina Lumsden attended one of the bon dance practices. She and her family heard the music as they were taking a walk and Lumsden wanted to join in the dancing. "It brought me back to my childhood," Lumsden said.

Lumsden, 37, was born and raised in Brazil. Her grandmother is Japanese and while growing up, would take her family to the bon dances in Brazil. "The basic gestures are there no matter what country you are in because you talk about nature," Lumsden said.

Niki Miller and her 24-year-old son also came in from Kaneohe just for the bon dance. Miller likes the taiko drums, the vitality of the music and the sense of the liveliness of an old culture. She and her son would join the dancers, trying to follow the dancers nearest the yagura. Normally, the first circle of dancers nearest the yagura are the experienced dancers or dancers from bon dance clubs.

Clubs began flourishing only after World War II. Before the war, Japanese traditions were dropped by nisei who wanted to demonstrate their allegiance to America. After WWII, bon dancing returned and new songs were created to commemorate the bravery of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

Although Matayoshi and some of the other teens enjoy attending bon dances, they don't have time to join any of the clubs. Erin Sakai, 15, said she may consider doing so when she retires. Her friend Sadoyama disagreed, saying it doesn't take much time to join a club. Sadoyama is a student of odori, a kabuki-style dance. Her classes take up two hours every Sunday.

Watching the older folk dance Saturday night, Raquel Santiago, 17, lamented, "They're in better shape than us."

"I don't know how old people do this," said Santiago's friend Miya, who didn't want to share her last name. The girls and their friends said it was embarrassing when they were facing the wrong way or when they clapped and no one else clapped.

But the older women helped them along, passing their knowledge to the next generation.

Bon Dance


45-520 Keaahala Road, 247-2661
Service, 6:30 p.m., dance, 6:45 p.m. Friday.

94-821 Kuhaulua St., 677-4221
Service, 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

23 Jack Lane, 595-2556
Service, 6:50 p.m.; dance, 7 p.m. Saturday.

1223 B North School St., 841-7033
Practice, 7 p.m. July 12; service, 4 p.m. July 15 and 9 a.m. July 16; dance 7 p.m. July 14-15.

66-469 Paalaa Road, 637-4423
Service, 6:30 p.m.; dance, 8 p.m. July 14-15.

2280 Auhuhu St., 455-3212
Service, 6 p.m. July 14; dance, 7:30 p.m. July 14-15.

1631 S. Beretania St., 973-0156
Dance, 7:30-9:30 p.m. July 14-15.

85-762 Old Government Road, 696-3125
Service, 7:30 p.m. July 14; dance, 7:30 p.m. July 15.

1731 N School St., 845-3422
Service, 9 a.m. July 15-16; practice, 7 p.m. July 19, 21 and 26; dance, 7 p.m. July 28-29.

1641 Palolo Ave., 732-1491
Service, 10 a.m. July 16; practice, 7 p.m. July 25; dance, 7:30 p.m. July 28-29.

30-D Maluniu Ave., 262-4560
Dance, 7 p.m. July 22.

66-279 A Haleiwa Road, 637-4382
Dance, 8 p.m. July 21-22; floating lantern ceremony, 9 p.m. July 22.

1685 Alaneo St., 531-9088
Service, 7 p.m.; dance, 7:30 p.m. July 21-22.

164 California Ave., 622-1429
Taiko performances by Hawaii Matsuri Taiko, 7 p.m.; dance, 7:30 p.m.; taiko performances by Hawaii Matsuri Taiko Performing Group and Youth Groups, 8:30 p.m. July 21-22.

1429 Makiki St., 949-3995
Service, 2 and 7 p.m. July 27, 28 and 29 and 2 p.m. July 30; Toro Nagashi, 8 p.m. July 30; dance, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18-19.

858 Second St., 455-1680
Service, 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m. July 28-29.

2869 Oahu Ave., 988-7214
Dance, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Aug. 4 -5.

94-413 Waipahu St., 671-3103
Service, 6:30 p.m.; dance, 8 p.m. Aug. 4-5.

1067 California Ave., 293-5268
Service, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11; dance, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12.

915 Sheridan St., 941-5663
Rehearsal, 7 p.m. Aug. 8; dance, 7 p.m. Aug. 11-12; service, 9 a.m. Aug. 13.

99-045 Kauhale St., 488-6794
Service, 6 p.m.; dance, 8 p.m. Aug. 11-12.

2552 Kalakaua Ave., 922-6611
Obon festival, 6-9:30 p.m. Aug. 16, parking lot.

1708 Nuuanu Ave., 537-9409
Dance, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18-19.

99-186 Puakala St., 488-5685
Service, 6:30 p.m.; dance, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26.

3410 Campbell Ave., 737-1748
Dance, 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26.

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