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Obon Festivals

July 2, 2009
Trisha Smith

From now until the summer’s end, Maui’s residents and visitors alike have an opportunity join in on the time-honored Japanese and Buddhist tradition during numerous festivals throughout Obon season.

An Obon festival is an annual tradition based on an ancient Buddhist text portraying a devoted monk dancing with joy after releasing his mother’s spirit from the “Realm of Hungry Ghosts.” Today, a variety of missions hold celebrations to honor the departed (deceased) spirits of beloved ancestors and appreciate the beautiful lives we still live.

The Buddhist custom grew from a holiday where families would come together to visit and clean their ancestors graves, then their spirits were thought to revisit household altars.

It is also been referred to as the Feast of Lanterns and has been celebrated in Japan for more than five centuries and typically involves a dance known as Bon-Odori. Festivals usually end with the floating of lanterns—or Toro Nagashi—that symbolizes the return of the ancestral spirits to the world of the dead.

Year after year, the celebration of Bon, or Obon season, continues to be an important part of the present-day culture and life of Hawai‘i. Japanese immigrants brought the Obon tradition over the Hawaiian Isles during the late 19th century and over the years, the religious custom events have evolved into social and cultural events for all to enjoy with dancing, music, ono foods and merriment.

There is customarily a service held to commemorate ancestors and their sacrifices, with the dance held directly after, as attendees move to the beats of taiko drummers, hands clapping and other instruments. Even if you don’t know the dance, feel free to join the festivities.

Although traditionally associated with Buddhist and Japanese cultures, the festival of Obon is celebrated throughout the United States, regardless of religious or cultural preference. Maui County is fortunate enough to have a variety of dates at temples islandwide throughout the summer where Obon festivities will be held and they invite all walks of life to join in on the fun and honorable occasion.

Obon celebrations will also take place within the Azeka Complex, Hale Mahaolu Elua, Hale Makua—Kahului and Wailuku.



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