21st annual Honolulu Festival returns with music, dancing and fireworks this weekend

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The Honolulu Festival, one of the state’s premier cultural events, returns for its 21st year this weekend. If you’re on Oahu, be sure to check out this free and open to the public event featuring cultural performances, dancing, fireworks, exhibits, workshops, a parade and more. The festival’s events will be held in locations throughout Waikiki and in the Hawaii Convention and Ala Moana Centers, March 6-8.

The annual festival happens each March and celebrates the diverse cultures found throughout the Pacific. The theme of this year’s festival—“Creating Cultural Friendships with Aloha”—reflects organizer Honolulu Festival Foundation’s mission to promote the understanding, economic cooperation and ethnic harmony between the people of Hawaii and the Pacific Rim region.

More than 5,000 musicians, dancers, artists and cultural representatives comprising 132 groups from Japan, Australia, Tahiti, the Philippines, Taiwan, Korea and Alaska are expected to travel to Honolulu to participate in this year’s event.

Friendship Gala performers. Photo: Honolulu Festival.

The festival kicks off on Fri., March 6 with the Friendship Gala (7:00-8:30 p.m.) at the Hawaii Convention Center. The only ticketed event of the celebratory weekend, the Friendship Gala is a fundraiser for the Honolulu Festival Foundation’s educational and cultural programs. If you go, expect vibrant cultural entertainment and food from some of Oahu’s top restaurants. Tickets are $90 per person ($70 if you’re under 21 or free for those 6 and under).

Live cultural music and dance performances—showcasing everything from hula and Japanese dance to Okinawan taiko drumming—can be found from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday at Hawaii Convention Center, Ala Moana Center and along the Waikiki Beach Walk. The convention center will also feature food stalls, a craft fair with more than 100 booths, three Japanese movie screenings, an anime corner featuring a cosplay café, as well as a kid’s corner with crafts, games and a chance to learn about Japanese traditions. This year’s festival symposium will highlight the significance of ecotourism to Hawaii (Sat., 1:30-4:30 p.m., room 301, Hawaii Convention Center).

An outdoor festival event in Waikiki. Photo: Honolulu Festival.

On both Saturday and Sunday, visitors to the convention center can also participate in Bon Dance (Sat., 1:10-1:45 p.m. & 3:30-4:05 p.m.; Sun., 1:50-2:25 p.m.). The traditional Japanese Buddhist ceremony honoring ancestors usually takes place in temples throughout Hawaii between June and August. Honolulu Festival promises the first dances of the season around a volunteer-made yagura (scaffold).

You’ll have to wait until Sunday evening for two of the festival’s most anticipated events. The Grand Parade along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, and the dazzling Nagaoka Fireworks Show over Oahu’s south shore beaches. The parade begins at 4 p.m. with dozens of floats, dancers and musicians. Following the appearance of the parade’s 33-foot-long smoke and fire-breathing dragon, the evening’s events will segue into the brilliant fireworks display (scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m.). Nagaoka, one of Honolulu’s sister cities in Japan, will host the show for its fourth year in a row. The radio-program choreographed aerial display will be launched from barges off of Waikiki Beach’s midpoint.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t again congratulate Valerie Sparrow of Alberta, Canada. She’ll be in town as the winner of our “HAWAII Magazine Honolulu Festival Oahu Flyaway” contest that concluded in January. Her prize included round trip airfare for two to Oahu from Hawaiian Airlines, a five-day four-night stay at the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki, VIP access to some of the festival best events (including reserved seats for the parade and the Friendship Gala), a gift card to Ala Moana Center shops and a submarine tour courtesy of Atlantis Adventures.

Congratulations and enjoy the festival, Valerie!

Categories: Oʻahu, Travel Tips