Jane Takamura, at a Koloa Bon Dance. Photo by Anne E. O’Malley
Article and photos by Anne E. O’Malley
On weekends throughout the summer on Kaua`i, a 500-year-old Japanese tradition takes place that links families to their deceased relatives — and brings community members closer together. The cause for celebration is the traditional Japanese Bon Dance.
Each weekend at a different temple, gaily-colored paper lanterns bob in the balmy night air as drums throb. Women wrapped in elaborate kimonos and men in happi coats throng the center of a prescribed circle to perform traditional dances that welcome the spirits of the ancestors. This is a friendly and welcoming place and everyone, residents and visitors alike are welcome.
Usually, there’s a demonstration of pounding mochi rice. Always, behind the scenes, volunteers whip out flying saucers, Okinawan donuts and ganduli rice.
“It’s traditional folk culture that’s evolving and changing,” says one former president of a temple board, referring to the dances.
One middle-aged gentleman of Japanese ancestry who for many years had remained apart from the temple where he now worships, speaks of a revelation he had shortly after his father’s death.
“I learned how to dance so I could be dancing with my dad,” he says. “I’d grown up with it, heard the music, saw the dance.”
June is the start of the Bon Dance season. Dances take place two nights in a row at each of the host temples, on Friday and Saturday nights.