HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Bon Dance Season is Here

HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND – Bon Dance Season is Here
by Kelly Moran

In the Buddhist tradition, during the summer months, Japanese residents welcome back the spirits of departed loved ones at lively and festive dance events called o-bon (most in Hawaii shorten the word to bon). There are numerous o-bon dances at venues around the island of Hawaii set for this summer season between June and August. 

Photo: Hawai'i Magazine (

In Japan, the summer o-bon festivals date back to more than 500 years. In Hawaii, Buddhist temples take turns hosting the festivals and these dances have become as much social affairs as religious observances. 

Everyone is welcome at the Hawaiian festivals, regardless of religious background or ethnicity making the temple festivals well-attended.

What can I expect to see at an o-bon festival? 

  • Dances that participants can engage in (called bon-odori). These generally involve people circling and dancing around a high wooden scaffold called a yagura (wooden musicians’ tower). Flutes and gongs may accompany singers and taiko drums.
  • A variety of foods for sale, including musubi (rice balls wrapped in dried seaweed), stir fried noodles, andagi (sweet fried dough), barbeque sticks, stew & rice, chirashi sushi, bentos, Spam musubis, shave ice cones and more.  
  • Some dressed in a yukata (summer cotton kimono) or a hapi coat.
  • Plenty of colorful chockin hanging lights. O-bon translates to “lantern festival” and the lanterns are believed to light the way for ancestral spirits, who are then greeted with offerings of flowers, food and incense.

Here is the Big Island O-Bon Festival Schedule, (courtesy Hawai’i Magazine):


• June 12
Honomu Henjoji Mission, 28-1658 Government Main Road, Honomu, 7 p.m.

• June 19
Papaikou Hongwanji Mission, Onomea Scenic Route, Papaikou, 6 p.m.

• June 26
Honomu Hongwanji Mission, 28-1668 Government Main Road, Honomu, 6 p.m.

• July 2, 3
Puna Hongwanji Mission, 16-592 Old Volcano Road, Keaau, 6:30 p.m.

• July 3
Kohala Hongwanji Mission, 53-4300 Akoni Pule Highway, Kapaau, 6 p.m.

• July 9, 10
Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, 398 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, 7 p.m.

• July 10
Daifukuji Soto Mission, 79-7241 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kealakekua, 7 p.m.
Kohala Jodo Mission, Hawi, 8 p.m.
Paauilo Hongwanji Mission, 43-1477 Hauola Road, Paauilo, 6 p.m.

• July 17
Honokaa Hongwanji Mission, 45-5016 Plumeria St., Honokaa, 6 p.m.

• July 24
Hilo Hongwanji Mission, 457 Manono St. Hilo, 7:30 p.m.
Kurtistown Jodo Mission, Iwasaki Camp Road, Kurtistown, 8 p.m.
Papaaloa Hongwanji Mission, Papaaloa, 6 p.m.

Kona Hongwanji Mission, 81-6630 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kealakekua, 7 p.m.

• July 31, Aug. 1
Taishoji Soto Mission, 275 Kinoole St., Hilo, 7 p.m.

• Aug. 7
Hilo Nichiren Mission, 24 Makalika St., Hilo, 7 p.m.
Hawi Jodo Mission, Hawi, 8 p.m.
Paauilo Kongoji Mission, 43-1461 Hauola Road, Paauilo, 7 p.m.

• Aug. 14
Hamakua Jodo Mission, Honokaa, 8 p.m.
Kona Koyasan Daishiji Mission, 76-5945 A Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa, 7 p.m.
Hilo Higashi Hongwanji, 216 Mohouli St., Hilo, 8 p.m.

• Aug. 21
Hakalau Jodo Mission, Hakalau, 8 p.m.

• Aug. 27
Honohina Hongwanji Mission, 32-896 Mamalahoa Hwy, Ninole, 6 p.m.

• Aug. 28
Kamuela Hongwanji Mission, Church Row, Kamuela, 6 p.m.

Puna Hongwanji Pahoa-Shibu, Pahoa, 7 p.m.