O-Bon, or just Bon, is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors.
The Buddhist custom has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people return to the family home to visit and clean the family graves, and it’s when the spirits of ancestors are supposed to return home.
It has been celebrated in Japan for more than 500 years (in Hawaii for about 100 years), and traditionally includes a dance festival, known as Bon Odori.
Taishoji’s O-Bon celebration includes a short Soto Zen religious service on dance night, popular old and new folk dances of Japan, a 20-minute Taiko performance, a concession booth, a solemn memorial service and, finally, a farewell of floating lanterns (Toro Nagashi) for the spirits of family members on the Wailoa River while the audience sings the beloved “Aloha ‘Oe” before the O-Bon festival comes to an end.
But since this is a private religious event, outsiders’ lanterns are not permitted for Toro Nagashi because of fire hazards in the small boat harbor.
The Bon festival season on Hawaii Island is June to September, and Taishoji Soto Zen Temple’s O-Bon is slated for Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 2-3. The Bon Dance Festival begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, the O-Bon Memorial Service starts at 9 a.m. Sunday, followed at 10 a.m. by the Hatsu Bon Service.
The Toro Nagashi (floating lanterns) ceremony begins at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Wailoa Boat Ramp, with a Taishoji Taiko performance, followed by the lantern floating farewell service. Officiating will be the Rev. Jiko Nakade of Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission. She will be assisted by Deacon Juho Kirkpatrick of Taishoji and Lay Temple Assistant Jikai Nakade of Daifukuji.
The public is invited to watch or join in the dancing. Admission is free, and kimonos and happis are desired but not required.