The Obon season is under way on Maui where Buddhists and non-Buddhists are gathering for nights of dancing, eating and making friends. Rev. Sol Kalu at Makawao Hongwanji Mission calls it the “happiest” of all festivals celebrated by the Buddhists. “It is deeply ingrained in the culture of the Japanese-American community here in Hawaii and elsewhere in the U.S. mainland or wherever a large community of people of Japanese descent are living,” Kalu said. Obon, which kicked off June 1 and runs through August 31 on Maui, is a time to honor the dead. Loved ones clean graves and say prayers, but in a joyous way, Kalu said.
Obon or bon dances are often marked with multicolored kimonos, bright lanterns and booming taiko drums that are aimed at welcoming ancestors back to the world. Like many temples, Makawao Hongwanji starts the evening with a service featuring the calling out of names of individuals who died during the last year. The Rev. Ai Hiranaga, minister of Lahaina Hongwanji Mission, will deliver a message that includes, according to Kalu, an encouragement to honor forefathers and be appreciative of the life today. “The bon is all about remembering the dead by honoring life,” Kalu said. Following the service, a core group of bon dancers from Buddhist temples around the island will lead dances that move in a circular motion. At Makawao Hongwanji, dancers make up multiple circles with the crowd numbering in excess of 300 people. Service starts at 6:30 p.m. on July 26 and July 27. Bon dance follows.
“You get to meet a lot of people and make new friends. It unites the community,” Kalu said. Groups including Boy Scouts, Junior Buddhists, the Buddhist Women’s Association, a Judo club, the Makawao Hongwanji Mission Dharma School and the temple itself will sponsor game and food booths. “Obon ceases to be a religious festival when it comes to dancing,” Kalu said. “Everyone can appreciate it and the action itself is a lot of fun.”