HANAPEPE — Ashlyn Agena was ready long before Rev. Kojun Hashimoto made his ascent atop the yagura Friday at the West Kaua‘i Hongwanji, Hanapepe Temple.
In a red kimono with the bon dance towel tucked neatly in her obi (sash), Ashlyn waited with her sister while her mother made final adjustments from the comfort of her folding chair.
This was the first bon dance of the 2008 season hosted by members of the Kaua‘i Buddhist Council. And as twilight gave way to night in the summer sky, Hashimoto welcomed the congregation of several hundred.
Its roots in Buddhism, obon arrived in Hawai‘i with the Japanese immigrants more than 100 years ago.
Although the basic bon odori (dance) remains, the practice has been assimilated into the Hawai‘i lifestyle.
The tantalizing aroma of yakiniku, or barbecue meat, wafted in the evening breeze as a crew of volunteers from the West Kaua‘i Hongwanji-manned makeshift barbecue pits fashioned out of used 55-gallon drums and stoked fires fueled by kiawe logs.
Rev. Midori Kondo of the Lihu‘e Hongwanji Mission, which celebrates its bon dance next weekend, said the tradition was born when one of Buddha’s disciples received the help of the monks in relieving his mother’s and seven generations of his ancestors’ pain and suffering. He reacted by clapping his hands and dancing for joy.
Offerings of food and clothing were made to the monks during the first obon in China in 538 A.D.
Although some Buddhist sects believe obon is a time when spirits of deceased ancestors return to this world, followers of the Jodo Shinshu believe it’s a time to remember and honor all those who have passed on before us and to appreciate all they have done for us.
As the celebration was embraced by Hawai‘i, bon dances became an event that strengthened communities. This rang true Friday, as residents from outlying communities gathered at the Hanapepe Temple to celebrate the start of the bon season on the island.
A Hawaiian-adapted teru-teru bozu, or mythical character that helps ward off rain, smiled down on Hashimoto as he presided over the short service preceding the dancing.
As the music pierced the nighttime quiet of Hanapepe, Agena and her sister were quickly enveloped up by the circle of dancers.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.