Hawaii celebrates summer obon season with drive-thru bento sales, virtual events

·5 min read

Jun. 6—There's nothing like the gaiety of a Japanese community bon dance, with thousands of people of all ages clapping and dancing in circles. The atmosphere is filled with thumping taiko drums and sing-song strains of the samisen (Japanese lute ), and the aroma of sizzling barbecue on the grill, as strings of glowing lanterns sway overhead.

In spite of COVID-19 restrictions that ban large gatherings for the second year, several Buddhist temples are determined to keep the spirit alive with virtual dances and a few in-person customs as the summer obon season, which honors one's ancestors, begins.

Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission Karen Pang, one of the leaders of the Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission Bon Dance Team, said it was a letdown not to have the real bon dance last year, but she thought, "we just have to make the best of the situation and maybe feel better about the pandemic."

Last year's video, made by the team, garnered positive comments and was viewed by at least 2, 000, including neighbor islanders and mainlanders, she said. A family in Idaho sent video of themselves dancing along with Wahiawa's team, Pang added.

She and Vivian Murayama, another team leader and both lifelong Hongwanji members, remember there's always been a designated bon dance team. They've pranced along to bon dances since they were children, and now Murayama's granddaughter Skylar Oshiro, age 3, has joined the team. Skylar's mother, Stephanie Oshiro, used to tote her infant in a carrier on her back as she practiced on the team ; the toddler started coming to rehearsals a year ago, they said.

Doris Matsuoka, 94, who has been dancing for more than 25 years, is the oldest member of the team, Pang said. The team started rehearsing 15 songs via Zoom in March, followed by in-person sessions a few weeks ago, to be in peak form for the video to be released at 6 p.m. June 26.

Wahiawa will also have a drive-thru pickup for three choices of bentos from 4 :30 to 5 :30 p.m. June 26 at the temple ; call 622-4320 to preorder by noon June 16, said Dale Shimaura, the temple's vice president.

Memorial ribbons with names of deceased loved ones are being sold for $20, and will be hung from pink-and-white lanterns decorating the temple ; call the temple to order by noon June 12. Items for an online silent auction will be displayed on the website this month, with more details to follow.

Wahiawa Hongwanji Mission, 1067 California Ave, 622-4320 ;

Mililani Hongwanji Mission The Rev. David Fujimoto, minister of Mili ­lani Hongwanji, said the temple's longtime bon dance instructors will perform about five dances for a video premiering at 6 p.m. Aug. 21 on the Mililani /Ewa Hongwanji ­YouTube Channel (); a virtual bon service will be shown at 7 a.m. Aug. 15 on the same ­channel.

There will be a drive-thru pickup for ­preordered bentos and fried noodles from 10 a.m. to noon Aug. 21 at the Mililani temple. A craft fair and silent auction will be available online, where people can mail-­order items or pick up ordered store items at the same time as the drive-thru.

The paper lanterns that will decorate the temple were designed by the dharma school students to keep them engaged during the pandemic, he said.

"It's important to keep traditions like the bon dance alive. ... For many, they come home for bon to be with their family, " Fuji ­moto said in an email. "Many times, it is their one and only time to come to the temple, outside of New Year's. Bon dance allows our members to see each other ; even (for ) myself as a minister, I look forward to seeing the members and friends that we don't normally see. It's like going to Vegas !

"When they do come and visit the temple, there is that feeling of appreciation and gratitude for all those who have come before us. With all of that music, laughter and excitement going on outside, still, the temple offers us a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of obon. All of that was missing last year, " he said. "This year, in all of the frustration and anxiety of the pandemic, like last year, it's our gift to everyone to escape from that stress-filled world."

Fujimoto also oversees the Ewa Hongwanji Mission, which will have its own drive-thru for bentos and fried noodles from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 31. A virtual bon service will premiere at 6 p.m. July 24 on the Mililani /Ewa Hongwanji YouTube channel.

Mililani Hongwanji Mission, 95-257 Kaloa ­pau St., Mililani, 625-0925 ; Ewa Hongwanji Mission, 91-1133 Renton Road, Ewa Beach, 681-5222 For more information about the bento ­orders, check the Mililani and Ewa temples' Facebook pages, or visit the temple websites : or.

Moiliili Hongwanji Mission Moiliili Hongwanji Mission and community organizations are sponsoring a virtual Summer Fest with a new online pop-up makeke, or market, in place of the popular event that drew thousands to the district every July, said organizer Cedric Duarte.

Sponsors include the Moiliili Community Center and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai 'i, and at least 20 to 30 retail vendors will participate. Beginning July 1, items will be available for purchase at the monthlong online market. Visit moiliilisummerfest.com.

This month the temple began selling bon dance towels ($10 ) and lantern tags ($20 ) in memory of loved ones, and taking bento and andagi doughnut orders by phone for a drive-thru pickup 4 to 6 :30 p.m. July 3 in front of the temple. Call 949-1659 to order by June 30.

A virtual bon dance will premiere at 7 p.m. July 3 ; visit for the link.

Moiliili Hongwanji Mission, 902 University Ave., 949-1659.

Seasonal events Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin, the main temple of the Hawaii Kyodan, said other temples on Oahu are planning their own events for the bon season, but dates and times have not yet been determined. Check with the individual temples for information or call 536-7044.

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