The Kapa‘a Hongwanji Bon Dance in 2014.

The Kapa‘a Hongwanji Bon Dance in 2014.

The Summer 2015 Bon Festival kicks off today and tomorrow, with Waimea Shingon Mission hosting the first Bon dance weekend of the year. Next weekend, it’ll be Kapa‘a Jodo Mission’s turn. Look at the bottom of this article for a complete schedule.

The focus of the festival is the Bon odori. This folk dancing is performed outdoors around a yagura (raised platform), where dancers form concentric circles.

Traditional kimonos, light summer yukatas, or the less formal happi coates are worn. A tenugui (thin plain-weaved cotton towel dyed in a pattern) is used as a dress accessory, a headband or sweatband, and a dance implement.

The music has a happy melody with a distinctive beat. Chochins (lanterns) hang from the yagura forming a canopy of colors over the dance ring. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to join the dance.

Lanterns at Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe. Photo by Brian Howell

Lanterns at Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe. Photo by Brian Howell

The festival also includes memorial services at the temple, honoring loved ones who have passed away. Buddhist traditions commemorate the deceased by reading out their names in remembrance. The temple services are held on Friday and Saturday and precede the dancing .

At Soto Zen, pink lanterns remembering a loved one are strung around the temple each year at the Bon festival. Other lanterns of different colors decorate the dance ring, bell tower and temple grounds. These hanging lanterns have become colorful symbols of the Bon tradition.

Food is a main ingredient of the festival and must be consumed to enjoy the full flavor of the Bon experienced. The many foods blend traditional Japanese flavors with American or Hawaiian flavors to give a distinctive island taste.

Bon Dance Food

Mochi pounding

Mochi pounding

Flying saucers — like a pita pocket Sloppy Joe sandwich, grilled into shape with a pie iron; this popular Bon fare is unique to the island of Kaua‘i.

Pronto pup — a hot dog dipped in a tasty pancake-like batter and deep fried.

Andagi — Okinawan-style, sweet, deep-fried bun resembling a doughnut.

Mochi — sweet Japanese rice cake molded into shape and stuffed with bean paste.

Manju — a type of Japanese confection, cookie-biscuit like, baked like a pastry and stuffed with sweet bean paste or other fillings.

Yakitori — chicken pieces marinated in teriyaki sauce, grilled on a skewer.

Saimin — Hawai‘i’s own noodle dish with Chinese and Japanese origins.

Shave ice — Hawai‘i’s version of snow cones, with a rainbow of tropical flavors.

Musubi — a rice ball that can be plain or wrapped with seaweed called nori.

Plate lunch — the local version of the Japanese bento, starting with two scoops of rice, a main dish and a side.

Kapa‘a Hongwanji 2014 Bon Dance. Anela Rapozo, on the foreground, and her classmates, from left to right, Miulana Asai, Hoouka Aquit, Hannah Asquit, Kamalii Haumea-Thronas, Kahiau Hamberg, Kamakea Haumea-Thronas and Laie Smith.

Anela Rapozo, front, and her classmates have fun at the Kapa‘a Hongwanji Bon Dance last year.

For children, the most traditional festival game booth is the fishpond. For a modest price, a child can fish for a prize hooked to a clothespin, on a line attached to a bamboo pole.

Cultural exhibits and art displays may be featured such as ikebana (flower arrangement), bonsai (miniaturized tree forms), sumie (brush painting), shodo (calligraphy) and martial arts.

Lastly, the festival is a time when families and relatives gather, when friends meet other friends, and when connections among each other are once again affirmed.

Festival Exhibits

Bonsai — a Japanese art form of growing miniaturized trees that are realistic representations of nature, in a flat, low-sided container. This exhibit is sponsored by the Kaua‘i Bonsai Club.

Sumie — a 2,000-year-old art form of Japanese brush painting that is spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism, using black ink called sumi.

Shodo — the art of calligraphy where an ink-dipped brush is used artistically to create Chinese and Japanese characters.

Special Intermission Performance

Special Japanese Ondo — in the mid-1950s, the Imada Dance Troupe of Kaua‘i did Bon Dance exhibitions on O‘ahu and Maui. A former dancer of that troupe has recreated the Iwakuni Ondo, using precision line dancing and implements of umbrellas, fans and wooden clickers.

Okinawan Song and Dance — Eisa is the traditional folk song and dance unique to the people of Ryukyu Islands. Dancers are accompanied by singers, chanters and drummers, with songs played on the sanshin, a three-stringed instrument.

2015 Bon Dance Schedule

Waimea Shingon Mission — June 5, 6

Kapa‘a Jodo Mission — June 12, 13

West Kaua‘i Hongwanji (Waimea) — June 19, 20

Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission — June 26, 27

Waimea Higashi Hongwanji — July 10, 11

Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple — July 17, 18

Koloa Jodo Mission — July 24, 25

West Kaua‘i Hongwanji (Hanapepe) — July 31, Aug. 1

Lihu‘e Hongwanji Mission — Aug. 7, 8