KAPA‘A — Growing up in Hawai‘i and attending bon dances during the summer is a life-long tradition for many kupuna, said Josie Pablo, recreational therapy director at Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital.
“We take some of our residents to bon dances in the community,” she said. “But there are those who are not able to make the trip, and for those, we bring the bon dance here.”
Pablo said Thursday night’s bon dance is the 15th event the hospital has hosted and is a demonstration of how the community of Kaua‘i comes together to help.
Working with the Kaua‘i Buddhist Council’s schedule of summer bon dances, Pablo juggles the schedule trying to squeeze in the popular tradition into the hospital’s busy calendar.
“We had our annual lu‘au last week, and on Tuesday, we’ll be working with a dozen nursing students from Okinawa for our second outing at Lydgate Beach Park,” Pablo said.
Myra Ornellas was grateful for the community support in making the bon dance take place, noting that diners enjoying the bon dance menu also support the hospital through its Mahelona Hospital Auxiliary and the Psychiatric Unit.
“Did you try the lilikoi cotton candy?” asked Arnold Leong of the Lihu‘e Missionary Church whose volunteers worked through creating and selling flying saucers, this time limited to just the hamburger and cheese filling. “We have planned for 300 flying saucers for this bon dance. This is 50 more than last year. I guess we’ll increase by 50 each year.”
But the traditional bon dance item quickly disappeared along with the chili, hot dogs and saimin being dispensed by the auxiliary members.
Pablo said the auxiliary members go above and beyond the call, Betty Matsumura contributing the sushi, Elain Hiranaka the andagi, or more commonly known as Okinawan doughnuts, and Elsie Koigawachi for the nishime, a type of Japanese stew.
The lilikoi cotton candy was announced by the rattling electric motor which veiled the waiting Men of the Koi Dynasty, being dispensed by the Psychiatric Unit along with popcorn and other snacks.
“This is the second year the Men of the Koi Dynasty has performed for us,” Pablo said. “And Taiko Kaua‘i is here for the first time.”
Taiko Kaua‘i, led by Ray and Diane Nitta, invited the dancers to open the festivities under a canopy of plastic chochin, or bon lanterns, loaned to the hospital by the Kaua‘i Soto Zenshuji Temple in Hanapepe, the lilting “Fukushima Ondo” heralding the start of night in Kapa‘a.
Among the dancers, Julia Aiko Ito was visiting from New York, her mother, Pamela Ito, noting that Julia was wearing a kimono once belonging to her grandmother, Pablo pointing out that Julia’s grandmother’s mother was a resident at the hospital at one time.
Others included three visiting Ishigaki, Japan, students who were home-staying with students from Kapa‘a High School and the Kapa‘a High School Japanese Club.
Haruka Kuroshima, Riino Fukuda and Mio Shimada earned trips to Hawai‘i for winning an English speech contest in Ishigaki earlier in the summer, arriving on Wednesday morning.
“They’re not only dancing,” said Brian Yamamoto, one of the host families. “The girls came earlier to help move the hospital residents out to the courtyard. Now, they’re dancing, and later, they’re supposed to meet Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.”
The mayor was in the midst of the dancers, being joined by state representative Derek Kawakami who spent time mingling with residents and their families before entering the ring.
“I couldn’t come to the lu‘au last week because I was out of town,” Carvalho said. “So I told Josie I was definitely not going to miss the bon dance.”
Other guests included a Japanese actor and his family who were all smiles while being included with the field of dancers.
Shohei, Yoi and Noi (names limited by contracts) were visiting Mahelona resident Toraichi Marugame.
“They first met when Yoi was only one-and-a-half years old,” said Colleen Morinaka of the Marugame ‘ohana who were visiting. “Mr. Marugame was their tour guide, then and they’ve come back to visit whenever they come back. Today, Yoi is 27 years old and a producer and actress, and they’re here, visiting.”
Pablo said the event would not take place without the help of her staff members Elaine Morita, Gregg Planas, Aimee Leong and Colleen McCracken who helped plan the event.
Pearl and Gloria Shimizu of the Kaua‘i Japanese Cultural Society arranged for dancers, drummers and singers.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.