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Hawaii's summertime bon dance season is under way. Here's where to go for festivals.

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Bon dance season in Hawaii is now under way. The Japanese custom of o-bon — Hawaii shortens the word to bon —honors the spirits of family members who have passed away.

You'll find o-bon festivals slated for just about every weekend at Hawaii hongwanji missions and temples, from June through August. According to tradition, it is believed the summer months are when ancestral spirits return to visit family and friends.

If you're visiting the Islands this summer, we recommend taking part in at least one o-bon festival, especially if you have never experienced the annual Japanese Buddhist tradition in person. (The 2011 schedule of Hawaii bon dance events is on the next page.)

In Japan, the tradition of summer o-bon festivals dates back more than 500 years. Here in the Islands, the festivals serve as both a ceremony of spiritual remembrance and a celebration of cultural heritage and community. Everyone is welcome at an o-bon festival, regardless of religious background or ethnicity. As such, each temple's festival — and there are dozens throughout summer — is often well-attended.

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O-bon festivals are best known for group dances known as bon-odori. The dance differs depending on the Japanese prefecture of origin, but generally involves dancers circling around a high wooden scaffold called a yagura (pictured, above) while swaying to the rhythms of folk songs and other music.

Note to novice dancers: the dance leaders are usually in the innermost circle. Just try to follow their moves. Beginners and children are welcome to take part in the dancing, which is intended to invite the ancestral spirits to visit family homes for the duration of the festival, which sometimes continues through two evenings.

The festivals are also known for serving up delicious Japanese foods such as andagi (sweet fried dough), grilled teri-beef and -chicken skewers, musubi (rice balls wrapped in dried seaweed), and stir-fry noodles. The menu is intends to both nourish dancers and raise money for the host hongwanji. So, bring your appetite. You may want to try all of it.

Also, make sure you bring a camera to capture a memory of it all. Want some ideas for potential photo opportunities? Before heading out to a bon dance, check out photographer Luke Takayama’s online photo gallery, which spotlights Hawaii bon dances.  


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