I lived in Hawaii for over ten years before attending my first Bon Dance (Obon or just Bon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors). That was last year. I am unsure why I never went. Maybe I just didn’t really know what it was. Was unsure if it was OK for my big haole self to go. Whatever the reason, it was silly. My son attends a Buddhist school now and we went to the Bon Dance at the temple associated with his school last year (and again this past weekend). We ended up going late last year. It was dark when we got there and the lanterns had already been lit. The majority of people were slowly dancing around what I just found out is called a yagura and were dressed in kimono or happi coats. (The typical Bon dance involves people lining up in a circle around a high wooden scaffold made especially for the festival called a yagura. The yagura is usually also the bandstand for the musicians and singers of the Obon music.)
I loved that there were old people, young people, and very young people all out there dancing these dances in unison. Each song has a specific dance that goes along with it. There is something about it, the ceremony of it, the embracing of culture and religion across age and race. I totally loved it. A few years ago, my significant other had to attend many a Bon Dance representing the City Council Member who he worked for. There was one particular dance that he would always come home dancing and humming the music for it. This year he has been honing his dance every chance he gets by watching it on the internet. He seems to have it down but unfortunately they did not play that song when we were at the Bon Dance last weekend. In summer school last week, my son was taught the Pokemon dance. In short, my family had received a bit of Bon Dance training and was ready to go when we attended on Saturday.
Despite the fact that everyone says you just jump in and join the dancers, taking that initial step is a bit intimidating. My son, the 7 year old, wanted to give it a go. I was feeling reluctant and self-conscious. Then I thought, well hell, what is that teaching my kid? Don’t try new things? Let fear rule the day? Worry too much about what people will think so that you are paralyzed? No, we did not do any of those things. We waited till there was a pause in the music and got out there. We were next to this lovely woman in a kimono and behind an older gentleman in a happi coat. The first dance was one we were able to sort of pick up by keeping an eye on those two. There were about four moves or so and they just kept repeating. The seven year old was into it. At one point two girls joined in right in front of us. One knew what she was doing and the other didn’t so the first one was giving verbal cues on what to do. We tried to listen in. Once in the mix, I spent so much time trying to follow what was going on that all of those self-conscious thoughts went out the window and we just had fun. We had so much fun that my son did not want to stop dancing. We had so much fun that we will be attending the Moiliili Bon Dance this upcoming Friday. So look for us out there, taking a spin around the yagura. We may be a bit out off but we will undoubtedly be having a great time.