The centuries-old custom of Obon came to Hawai‘i in the 19th Century with sugar cane plantation workers. The Japanese summer tradition honors ancestors and expresses appreciation for them giving us life (similar to All Saints/Souls Day and Day of the Dead in other places and cultures). Festivities can include Bon Odori or Bon Dance, along with taiko drumming, lanterns, incense offerings, wearing traditional clothing (kimono—yukata or happi coat), and other entertainment such as martial arts performances, crafts, and foods.
Bon dance can be interpreted in different ways according to the culture of a region. In Hawaiʻi, Bon Dance is a special summer attraction held at Buddhist temples around the Hawaiian pae ʻāina (island group). During the Bon Festival, there may be private religious observances by temple members as well as a public bon dance with joyous music and dancing. At these public events, everyone is welcome regardless of religious background, ethnicity, or dancing abilities. Admission is free.
Bon dancing takes no technical skills or special clothes to participate. Just follow along and mimic others in the group; you’ll be fine! Anyone is welcome to take part. If you have never experienced Bon Odori, dress in loose, comfortable clothing and shoes. A chair or mat to rest on is a good idea—available seating can be hard to come by.
Finally, be sure to come hungry and bring some cash. There will be vendors selling Hawaiian and Japanese food, crafts, and more.
Listed below for each island are temples that typically host public Bon Dances, held during summer throughout the Hawaiian Islands. There are many more on our calendar list below. You can find a Bon Dance somewhere almost every weekend from mid-June into August.
Hawaiʻi Obon Festivals
Honoka’a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple traditionally memorializes temple members who have died this year (“hatsubon”). However, temple members and the general public are invited to submit names of other loved ones to be included in the printed program and/or read at the annual Obon Community Memorial Service. When the names of the departed are read aloud, their ‘ohana is invited to step forward and symbolically offer incense in their memory. Anyone—regardless of faith—is encouraged to participate. Following the ceremony, there is a Bon Dance, where lanterns illuminate dancers in their happi coats, performing the traditional dances around central taiko drums. Everyone of all ages is welcome to join in. More info: Honoka’a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (honokaahongwanjibuddhisttemple.org)
Rissho Kosei-kai – Kona Dharma Center (73-4592 Hawaiʻi Belt Rd, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740) hosts a summer bon dance each year at their Hawaiʻi center. More info: Calendar of Events & Photos – Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Church of Hawaii (rkhawaii.org)
Kauaʻi Obon Festivals
Grove Farm Bon Odori Festival at Puhi Park. Bring your ʻohana and join in celebrating Obon Season to honor our ancestors and perpetuate culture. Bring a chair or mat and prepare to dance the night away! More info: Grove Farm Bon Odori
Waimea Higashi Hongwanji. The summer Obon season perpetuates the Buddhist tradition of honoring the spirit of those passed on celebrated with special services and festivals with food booths, taiko drummers, and other colorful sights and sounds. More info: Higashi Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin – Hawaii Temples (hhbt-hi.org) and West Kauai Hongwanji Mission – A Jodo Shin Buddhist temple
Waimea Shingon Mission Odaishisan of KAUAI. BON DANCE in summer to remember deceased family members and friends. More info: Waimea Shingon Mission on Strikingly (mystrikingly.com) and Waimea Shingon Mission | Facebook
Maui Obon Festival
Lahaina Hongwanji Shin Buddhist temple (Jodo Shinshu) hosts an Obon Festival in mid-August. More info: Lahaina Hongwanji Website
Oʻahu Obon Festivals
Soto Mission of Aiea Taiheiji’s Bon Dance is held annually on the second Friday and Saturday in August. Coming together in the dance circle naturally unites people, even perfect strangers, in a prayer for universal peace, the true aim of Bon Odori. It is a festive event drawing hundreds of people for two evenings of dancing and food. The evening begins with an exciting taiko performance. More info: Bon Dance – SOTO MISSION OF AIEA
Jodo Mission of Hawaiʻi in Honolulu is a Jodo Shu Buddhist temple in Makiki. More info: Jodo Mission of Hawaiʻi | Honolulu
Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Church (3 locations, including Hawaiʻi, Maui, Oʻahu) is based on the teachings of Ekayana (One Vehicle) Buddhism. More info: Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist Church of Hawaii (rkhawaii.org)
Calendar of upcoming bon dance events
Obon Festivals typically occur in mid-summer and will be listed here when they are announced by organizers.