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