Members of Hawaii Eisa Shinyuu Kai practiced their Okinawan bon dance last week for the upcoming Obon season. Linda Asato, president of the club, danced with fans during practice at the Jikoen Temple in Kalihi. The group is one of several that will take part in the season opener next Saturday at Hawaii Plantation Village in Waipahu.

Dances with memory

The bon dance ritual honors the
dead but is also a festive occasion
that transcends ethnic lines

Bon dance schedule

The observance of the Obon season, which begins next week, gives modern urban neighborhoods and rural communities a flavor of old plantation village life.

A bon dance will be staged during the summer by nearly every Buddhist temple as a traditional ritual that brings families together to honor their ancestors. In Hawaii it has become as much a cultural celebration of Japanese and Okinawan ethnic roots as a memorial to the dead, said University of Hawaii religion professor George Tanabe. Typical of the islands, many people who aren't Buddhist or Japanese join in the festivities. Also typically, island temples take turns so the festival continues on weekends through August.

"In bon dance, and in the lantern floating, the ritual breaks out of tradition and speaks to people beyond ethnic lines," Tanabe said.

"The universal sentiment people feel is the need to memorialize those who have passed away with some kind of a ritual," he said. "One of the things that might be happening, despite a modern impatience with ritual, is that we don't have enough ritual in a certain way," Tanabe said. "The younger generation still feels a need to participate in a ritual for someone who has passed away. So people turn to the lantern floating and the bon dance.

"In Japan, bon dances are usually not sponsored by temples, but by community associations. Here the temples are the custodians of Japanese culture," Tanabe said. "Most of the dances are kind of folk dances, not religious at all. The music is more agricultural, country music, not particularly Buddhist. People go to see dances, to eat saimin and shave ice, to have a good time, as opposed to reverence or worship."

Grant Murata, who has taught Okinawan-style dance for more than 20 years, agreed. "It is a cultural art of Hawaii now. People do not only come out as a Buddhist."

This year may be the 100th anniversary of Okinawans' observance of the bon season, said Murata, whose day job is with a heavy-equipment company. In his 1990 book on Okinawan immigration, Takenobu Higa reported that the first reference he found in old Japanese-language newspaper files about a specifically Okinawan Obon mentioned a dance on Kauai in 1903. The 100th anniversary of Okinawan immigration was celebrated in 2000.

Murata carries on in the style of his sensei, Henry Masatada Higa, who taught for 50 years. "The goal is to keep it without change, so 70 years of history are kept. We're very strict with our practice about what is the correct way. I tell them where you're wrong at practice. But when they get to the bon dance, whatever goes."

He said the Hawaii Eisa Shinyuu Kai was formed after a disagreement between those who wanted to keep the old forms intact and those who believe in improvising and modernizing choreography. The name reflects the schism. "'Shinyuu Kai' means 'intimate friends' or 'close friends,'" Murata explained. "We all have to get along; that's one of the prerequisites."

The group is one of several that will participate in the season opener next Saturday at Hawaii Plantation Village in Waipahu. The event will go from 6 to 10 p.m.

Tanabe said the lantern floating ritual is also one that attracts people seeking a meaningful memorial rite. Thousands of people attended one staged last Monday at Ala Moana Park by the Shinnyo En Buddhist lay organization.

Haleiwa Jodo Mission began the Toro Nagashi tradition in Hawaii and always includes the launching of candles into the ocean as part of its Obon observance. This year it will be on Aug. 2.


Bon dance schedule
for 2003


Date Time Place Address Practice
June 7 6-10 p.m. Waipahu Cultural Park 94-695 Waipahu St.
June 21 7:30 p.m. Ewa Hongwanji 91-1133 Renton Road
June 27-28 7:30 p.m. Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin 1727 Pali Highway June 23-25
June 27-28 7:30 p.m. Wahiawa Hongwanji 1067-A California Ave.
July 4-5 7:30 p.m. Moiliili Hongwanji 902 University Ave. July 1-2
July 11-12 6:30-10 p.m. Kaneohe Higashi Hongwanji 45-520 Keaahala Road
July 11-12 7 p.m. Koboji Shingon Mission 1223 B N. School St. July 9
July 11-12 7:30 p.m. Waipahu Hongwanji 94-821 Kahaulua St.
July 12 7-10 p.m. Tendai Mission of Hawaii 23 Jack Lane
July 18-19 8-11 p.m. Haleiwa Shingon Mission 66-469 Paalaa Road
July 18-19 7-9:30 p.m. Rissho Kosei-Kai Hawaii Kyokai 2280 Auhuhu St. (Pacific Palisades)
July 18-19 7:30-10:30 p.m. Shinshu Kyokai 1631 S. Beretania St.
July 19 7 p.m. Kailua Hongwanji 30-D Maluniu St. July 16
July 19 7:30 p.m. Waianae Hongwanji 87-762 Old Government Road
July 25-26 7 p.m. Higashi Hongwanji Betsuin 1632 Alaneo St.
July 25-26 7-10 p.m. Jikoen Hongwanji 1731 N. School St.
July 25-26 7:30 p.m. Pearl City Hongwanji 858 2nd St.
July 25-26 7:30 p.m. Wahiawa Ryunsenji (Soto) 164 California Ave.
Aug. 1-2 8-11 p.m. Haleiwa Jodo-Shu 66-279 A Haleiwa Road
Aug. 1-2 5:30-10:30 p.m. Koganji Temple 2869 Oahu Ave.
Aug. 1-2 7-9:30 p.m. Palolo Higashi Hongwanji 1641 Palolo Ave.
Aug. 1-2 8 p.m. Waipahu Soto Zen Mission Taiyoji 94-413 Waipahu St.
Aug. 2 7:30 p.m. Waialua Hongwanji 67-313 Kealohanui St.
Aug. 8-9 7-10:30 p.m. Shingon Mission of Hawaii 915 Sheridan St.
Aug. 9 7:30 p.m. Aiea Soto Mission Taiheiji 99-045 Kahale St.
Aug. 9 7:30 p.m. Kahuku Hongwanji Call 622-4320 for directions.
Aug. 15-16 7:30 p.m. Jodo Mission of Hawaii 1429 Makiki St. Aug. 12-13
Aug. 15-16 7:30-11 p.m. Mililani Hongwanji 95-257 Kaloapau St. July 31, Aug. 7, 11-13
Aug. 15-16 7:30 p.m. Soto Mission of Hawaii Betsuin 1708 Nuuanu Ave.
Aug. 23 7:30 p.m. Aiea Hongwanji 99-186 Puakala Road
Aug. 30-31 no time given Okinawan Festival Kapiolani Park
Sept. 20 5:30 p.m. Autumn Matsuri at Okinawan Center Hawaii Okinawan Center at Waipio Gentry


Date Place
June 7 Honomu Hongwanji Mission
June 14 Honomu Henjoji (Odaishisan)
June 21 Papaikou Hongwanji Mission
July 4 Eisa Bon Dance at Mooheau Park
July 5 Keei Hongwanji Fukyojo
July 5 Kohala Hongwanji Mission
July 5 Puna Hongwanji Mission
July 12 Daifukuji Soto Mission
July 12 Hilo Meishoin
July 12 Kohala Jodo Mission
July 12 Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission
July 18-19 Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin
July 19 Honokaa Hongwanji Mission
July 19 Kurtistown Jodo Mission
July 19 Kona Hongwanji Mission
July 26 Hilo Hooganji Mission
July 26 Papaaloa Hongwanji Mission
Aug. 2 Hawi Jodo Mission
Aug. 2 Hilo Taishoji Soto Mission
Aug. 2 Paauilo Kongoji Mission
Aug. 2 Taishoji Soto Mission
Aug. 9 Hamakua Jodo Mission
Aug. 9 Hilo Higashi Hongwanji Mission
Aug. 9 Kona Koyasan Daishiji
Aug. 16 Hilo Nichiren Mission
Aug. 16 Paauilo Hongwanji Mission
Aug. 23 Pahoa YBA
Aug. 30 Hakalau Jodo Mission
Aug. 30 Honohina Hongwanji Mission
Aug. 30 Kamuela Hongwanji Mission


Date Place
Aug. 15-16 Kauai Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji


Date Place
July 11-12 Paia Mantokuji Soto Mission


Date Place
July 5 Molokai Guzeiji Soto Mission


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