At a roadside church in Ewa Beach, the Honpa Hongwanji A Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple held an event called a Bon Dance. It is advertised in various local newspapers and online, but my attention was drawn to it from an invitation from a friend.
On the metal gate outside of the parking lot, there was a Hand lettered sign announcing an Obon Dance advertised on June 18, 2016. A friend who is of Japanese, Hawaiian and Filipino decent suggested I attend, as it is open to the community. She had attended many such events throughout her lifetime and hoped to see a few friends there, as well as enjoy some food, purchase homemade baked goods and participate in the dancing. The event was scheduled from 7pm – 10pm, but we went early as the events can get crowded and finding a seat will be impossible once the event begins.
As it was explained to me, the Bon Dance is celebrated throughout Japanese culture, as a means to connect with the community, to provide social opportunities, a time to meet up with old friends, see family, and enjoy traditional food as well as learning traditional forms of dance and worship.
The tower was set up in the middle of the yard, with rounded rice-paper lanterns of red and white strung from the tower to the outlying buildings and trees; awaiting the nightfall to light the grassy area where the dance circle would be conducted.
The attendance was over 500 people, who were all crowded into a less than an acre space within the church grounds. The church itself was a single room building with 10 rows of double pews, with outlying buildings and mobile trailers for the office, kitchen, restrooms, and banquet hall. I went into the temple to give honor to Buddha and the temple as is my way, when entering any sacred space.
After procuring my homemade butter moche, I sat across from a couple who were wearing modern clothing,, they were friendly and everyone seemed to have their camera phones ready. I looked around at that time while the sun still shone, and noticed the variety of attire. Some of the attendees were in modern dress or aloha wear, while some of the ladies and children wore kimonos. Attached to this article is an image of the tower from which the music plays and emcee makes announcements.
Immediately next to the tower and at ground-level are 8 to 10 teachers (sansei) who dance and show the gestures, steps and postures that are to accompany each traditional song. Upon observation, I recognized the hand gestures and movements similar to Hawaiian traditional Hula that indicates when one is tilling the soil, or rowing a boat, as well as the more dignified gestures of reaching into the sky to acknowledge the sun and the stars. For as with Hula, the Bon dancers are acting out the story of which the lyrics are expressing, in a language I did not understand, so I just let the music move me.
I joined in, as all were welcome, and dancing on the outer circle, of which there were five total. The pace is measured, and taking care to be aware of one’s neighbors, it is a joyous experience to be had by all. There is a definite sense of the sacred, as well as celebration.