2022 Maui bon dance schedule: Obon festival returns after two year hiatus
Special to Maui Now by Cy Yoshizu
2022 Maui Bon Dance Schedule
*Tentative. Times and dates are subject to change.
June 4 (Sat) Lahaina Shingon Mission
682 Luakini St., service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
808-661-0466, [email protected]
June 11 (Sat) Puʻunēnē Nichiren Mission
9 Ani St., service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
June 17 (Fri) Wailuku Jodo Mission
67 Central Ave., service 6 p.m.; dance 7 p.m.
808-244-3800, [email protected]
June 18 (Sat) Wailuku Shingon Mission
1939 North St., service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
808-244-0066, [email protected]
June 25 (Sat) Kahului Jodo Mission
325 Laʻau St., service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
808-871-4911, [email protected]
July 2 (Sat) Lahaina Jodo Mission
12 Ala Moana St., service and Toro Nagashi 6:30 p.m.; dance 8 p.m.
808-661-4304, [email protected]
July 9 (Sat) Pāʻia Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission
281 Hana Highway, service only 6 p.m
808-579-8051, [email protected]
July 15 (Fri)/ 16 (Sat) Kahului Hongwanji Mission
291 S. Puʻunēnē Ave., service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
808-871-4732, [email protected]
July 22 (Fri)/ 23 (Sat) Makawao Hongwanji Mission
1074 Makawao Ave., service 6 p.m.; dance 7 p.m.
808-572-7229, [email protected]
August 5 (Fri)/ 6 (Sat) Wailuku Hongwanji Mission
1828 Vineyard St., service 6:45 p.m.; dance 8 p.m.
808-244-0406, [email protected]
August 12 (Fri)/ 13 (Sat) Lahaina Hongwanji Mission
551 Waineʻe St., service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
808-661-0640, [email protected]
*August 20 (Sat) Pāʻia Rinzai Zen Mission
120 Alawai Road, service 6 p.m.; dance 7 p.m.
808-579-9921, [email protected]
August 27 (Sat) Kula Shofukuji Mission
53 Upper Kula Road, service 6:30 p.m.; dance 7:30 p.m.
Obon scheduled to return this summer
Valley Isle temples look to hold first Bon dances since 2019
Special to Maui Now By Cy Yoshizu
Spread the word, Obon is back! It’s time to dust off your happi coats and yukata.
Over the years, there has been the occasional cancellation of an individual Obon festival, often due to weather events like tropical cyclones. However, there has not been a stoppage to the extent seen over the past two years since World War II.
“Historically, Obon was only discontinued during the war, so by returning, it renews our commitment to this cultural tradition to honor our ancestors,” recounted Maui Taiko President Kay Fukumoto.
Fukumoto’s family has been involved in perpetuating “Fukushima Ondo” on Maui for over 50 years, with generations of her family also having been involved for more than a century.
The tradition of Obon came to Hawaiʻi via Japanese Buddhist ministers following the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants, who came to the islands to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations. Obon festival in Japan typically lasts for three days in the month of August. However, in Hawaiʻi, the Obon season starts in June and lasts until September, allowing a different temple to host an Obon festival each weekend.
“Obon, also known as Bon, is a time to remember our honored ancestors and departed loved ones, and to reflect upon their continuing influence on our lives, to rededicate ourselves to living this moment of this day of an unrepeatable life to honor our debt of gratitude,” explained Reverend Kerry Kiyohara, resident minister of Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. “The tradition that the spirits of our ancestors come back to this world once a year is shared by many cultures around the world. In the Hongwanji tradition, the Hatsubon (first Obon memorial service) is a significant religious observance of re-connection for the living, not ritual for the repose of the spirits of our ancestors.”
In many rural areas of Hawaiʻi, Obon has evolved into its own special annual community event that is not only celebrated by Buddhists, but also non-Buddhists. It has turned to a festival where friends and families can gather and enjoy their favorite local and Japanese festival foods like chow fun, manju, and andagi, while perpetuating and sharing Japanese-American customs.
“As a Temple, we look forward to the opportunity to return to being an active supporter of the Upcountry Maui and Makawao Town community,” said Kiyohara. “Bon dance really belongs to everyone who comes, so it’s a shared joy and responsibility to join hands, roll up our sleeves, and work together to keep making Upcountry Maui and Makawao Town a thriving, fun, and safe place for everyone.”
Even though there haven’t been any Bon dances held on the Valley Isle in more than two years, its popularity and demand has remained at an all-time high. To ameliorate its absence, Maui Minyo Kai President Shannon Loo, with the help of fellow Maui Minyo Kai member Jonah Valois-Nishimura, created “Zoomdori” in the summer of 2020. During the age of Zoom meetings and live-streaming, Loo and Valois-Nishimura were able to utilize the platform, along with other social media services, to broadcast weekly virtual Bon dances.
“I think many people got to keep dancing and it sort of kept it fresh at least for that year,” said Loo as he reflected on the success of their virtual Bon dances, which drew thousands of participants online from across the state and as far away as the US mainland and Japan. “Maui Minyo Kai of course has had to sit out and take a pause on our classes here and there over the past two years, but with technology we were able to participate in classes, as well as virtual Obon festivals throughout Maui and even the mainland. We were always connected, albeit not physically.”
At the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in March of 2020, Makawao Hongwanji Buddhist Temple began live-streaming weekly temple events, such as sutra chantings, Dharma talks, and Sunday family services. With the support of many people and temple organizations, they were able to host a virtual Bon dance and Obon Memorial Service for the past two years. Kiyohara said they also organized a “Bon Dance Food Drive-Thru” to give people a chance to enjoy their favorite Bon dance foods through contactless order, payment, and pick up.
“We hit lots of bumps along the way, but also learned to work together in new ways,” Kiyohara said.
Maui Taiko also had to get creative in order to maintain its group. They could not use their normal practice facility because it was a county building. For the time being, they had to look to holding online classes. As the county began to ease COVID-19 restrictions, Fukumoto said the group was finally able to hold in-person classes in parks while still maintaining all the safety precautions.
“It is difficult to teach and learn drumming online, so it certainly challenged our muscle memory as well as our recall of our repertoire of songs,” said Fukumoto. “We just participated in the Maui Marathon, which allowed us to practice ‘Fukushima Ondo’ for three hours, and are reviewing our other live Obon songs to prepare for the season. We are back to normal rehearsals.”
Preparation and planning is already underway for many temples around the island.
Reverend John Hara, resident minister of Wailuku and Kahului Jodo Missions, expressed his excitement for the return of in-person Obon after the two-year hiatus. However, the safety and health of his members and the community remains a high priority for him.
“We are preparing the same as if there was no pandemic, as far as food and preparation is concerned,” said Hara. “The difference is watching the numbers and making sure we abide by any restrictions or recommendations by the state or county to ensure we are working and providing a cooperative and supportive community-based event.”
Like Hara, other ministers acknowledged that in the event the county or state has an alarming number of hospitalizations and cases, they will cancel in-person Bon dances and may limit the Obon to just the service or a virtual event as they have done in the past two years.
To kick things off, Maui Minyo Kai, in collaboration with Wailuku Jodo Mission, will host a free public Bon dance practice in the temple parking lot at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 22. Parking will be available at the Mālama I Ke Ola Health Center.
“It has been a while for a lot of folks and I think a refresher is something everyone can use,” Loo said.
Pāʻia Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission will host an Obon memorial service at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 9, but will not hold its annual Friday and Saturday evening Obon festival this year. Pāʻia Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission Kyodan Secretary Cathy Murayama said they hope to return to having the two-night Obon festival next year.
Down the road at the Pāʻia Rinzai Zen Mission, the island’s only traditional all-Okinawan Bon dance is tentatively scheduled to make its return on Saturday, Aug. 20. However, a formal announcement has not been made yet.
“With the COVID situation still close at hand, we are taking a wait-and-see stance right now,“ said Pāʻia Rinzai Zen Mission President Alan Nago. “We hope to make a formal commitment by the end of June.”
As the Obon festival season draws near, the excitement level is beginning to build in the community. Sylvia Kawaguchi Neizman, a fourth-generation Lahaina Hongwanji Mission Sangha member and Dharma School teacher, is looking forward to getting back into the same Obon circle and dance in the footsteps of her mother.
“I am truly grateful and will never take Obon and actually anything for granted again,” said Kawaguchi Neizman. “I am looking forward to the dancing, music, drumming, food, and seeing everyone in our Obon dance community. It will not be easy to pick up where we left off from two years ago. We are all looking forward to starting now to do what we can, with what we have, and remember how a group of Shin Buddhist can work well together because every action is an act of gratitude.”
Loo also remains optimistic about the upcoming Obon season.
“We will definitely be a little cautious and may not return to hugging everyone, but we will definitely cherish the time spent talking story and dancing with everyone,” he said. “Obon is about honoring our loved ones, and I truly believe that honoring our loved ones that have passed make the ones that are here much more special.”
This upcoming Obon season will also be a sentimental one for residents like Kawaguchi Neizman, who lost her daughter on Dec. 24, 2019. Kawaguchi Neizman will finally be able to attend her Hatsubon and offer incense in the Otera (temple) in her daughter’s memory. Fukumoto also shared the same sentiment, as she lost her sister two years ago.
“During these two years, many of us have lost loved ones and we have not been able to honor them in our cultural and religious ways without Obon,” she said. “For families like ours, it is a special time to renew our tradition and remember our loved ones in the way we know how—to dance, sing and drum for our ancestors to hear.”
To stay up to date with the latest Obon news and announcements, it is highly recommended to check each temple’s website or follow their social media accounts.
For a weekly listing of Maui music and other events, go to Maui Entertainment, Arts, Community, May 12-May 18 and click here.