Obon Season Is Upon Us! 

By: Jenn K

I won’t lie, I really wanted to try these out.

A few months ago, my adventure friend, Carlen, texted me that she was going to make happi coats for Obon season. Held during the summer months across Hawaii, bon odori is free to the public.  They provide opportunities for participants to dress in traditional Japanese yukata and dance the night away – with people they may or may not even know.  

Carlen’s first bon odori!

I definitely wanted a custom happi coat and suggested that we debut her creations right away. She agreed and, with the help of her equally talented mother-in-law, whipped up two beauties for us.  We planned for the obon festival put on by the Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, at Sangha Hall.  It would be Carlen’s first ever bon dance. 

Love my new happi coat! Haute couture by CP Designs.

It had been quite some time since I last attended a bon dance, anywhere.  If I did the math correctly, it was 27 years ago! That particular summer was special, as I had just graduated from high school.  I made sure to fill my weekends with a variety of activities with friends, many of whom were planning to head off to school.  Bon dances happened to be high on the priority list and we attended all of them…and danced!

Rimban Reverend Jeffrey Soga knows how to strike a pose.

As evidenced last night, to put on an obon festival takes a lot of work and man hours by members of the church, a boy scout troop, Jr and Sr YBA members, and many others. Hustle and bustle occurs all night long by those preparing food, selling food, monitoring the parking lot, taking turns at the reception table, and even trying to squeeze in a little bit of social time with attendees.  For a two-night event, I can only hope that the work is split equally.

Dancers awaiting the next song. Would it be traditional or modern?

In contrast to 1989, I decided not to take part in any dancing.  Instead, I enjoyed observing everyone else.  The elders circled the yagura, each step and hand motions in sync, some more animated than others.  As usual, just about everyone became uninhibited when Betcho played.  While things appeared to be the same as I remembered, I felt different inside.  Had I become a boring person for not dancing? Were bon dances way more fun back in the day because I was young or because I was inebriated?

Friendly faces at the reception table.

At one point, Carlen needed fresh air so we went outside where the air was surprisingly nice and cool.  It was decided that this would be a great opportunity to take some fun photos of ourselves in our new coats. We laughed, we posed, and we laughed some more before heading back inside.

The first group of dancers to kick off the night.

It didn’t take long before we were ready to leave.  As we exited the building we were stopped by a security guard.  He felt compelled to let us know that he noticed how much fun Carlen and I were having earlier.  We were proof that it’s highly possible to have a great time while sober! 

Burt has a beard!

Obon season is a time for everyone to gather, to celebrate, and to be inclusive because that’s the Hilo way.

The colorful yagura.


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