KAPA‘A — The Rev. Kazumori Takahashi’s phone rang at 4:30 in the morning.
Fearing a family emergency, the minister of the Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission tentatively picked up the receiver, said Winston Kawamoto, a mission member manning the choba, or contributions, table Saturday night at the mission’s bon dance.
“My sister Reggie said Rev. Takahashi said there was a gentleman on the other end of the phone call inquiring about when the bon dance was going to be so he could plan his vacation to coincide with the bon dance since he had so much fun last year,” Kawamoto said.
Roy Nishida, joining Kawamoto at the choba table, said people have been anxiously waiting for this year’s dance.
“Everybody is excited about bon dance,” Nishida said. “Friday night, there were so many people out there. The first and the last bon dances are usually the most crowded.”
Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission opened the 2012 schedule of bon dances for Kaua‘i, the next one being hosted by Waimea Higashi Hongwanji this Friday and Saturday with dancing to start at 7:30 p.m. each night.
Preceding the dancing, each church hosts a hatsubon service where people have an opportunity for rememberance for those family members who passed between last year’s bon and this year’s bon.
“The bon dance season, a special attraction of summer in Hawai‘i, takes place at different Buddhist temples every weekend from mid-June into August,” Takahashi said in a press release.
“There are various ways of enjoying this event, such as dancing, watching the dancing, eating tasty foods, and more. Everyone is invited. Please come and bring along your family and friends.”
Takahashi said the bon dance has religious and cultural aspects; the first bon dances were organized at Buddhist temples by Japanese immigrants who arrived in Hawai‘i to work on sugar and pineapple plantations.
Since its arrival and with the help of the plantation lifestyle promoted among the plantation camps of different ethnicities, the bon dance in Hawai‘i has taken on a unique local flavor.
“Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission was founded in 1922 and has been preserved by temple members and the local community,” Takahashi said. “The teaching of Buddhism has been transmitted from here for a long time, including its related customs and events which are handed down from generation to generation. The bon dance is one of those significant events.”
Bon, simply described, originates from the story of Mokuren, a disciple of the Buddha.
“In the story, Mokuren discovered his departed mother had fallen into the realm of hungry ghosts and was suffering,” Takahashi said. “He was greatly disturbed so went to the Sakyamuni Buddha and asked how he could save his mother.”
After receiving guidance from the Buddha, Mokuren put the Buddha’s teaching into practice, resulting in his mother being saved and released from the realm of hungry ghosts.
Mokuren was so happy, he jumped up and started dancing, unable to contain his joy.
“The observance of bon is held in memory of our departed family members and includes the bon dance,” Takahashi said. “It is also called ‘Kangi-e,’ or ‘joyous gathering.’”
The bon dance includes not only religious and cultural aspects, but also social aspects as it promotes a coming together of the local community, the Kapa‘a release states.
The event is not only for Buddhists; local people and visitors come to the dances to enjoy the event. A common sight Saturday was the abundance of cell phones either recording video or taking photos.
“I think one of the attractive parts of bon dance is that anybody can participate in it,” Takahashi said. “If we think about the origin of the bon dance and the Buddhist temples on Kaua‘i, we would realize that our predecessors left a great heritage to us.”
Following the Waimea Higashi Hongwanji bon dance this weekend, the Hanapepe Soto Zen Temple will host its bon dance June 22 and 23 with dancing to start at 7:30 p.m.
Call the Waimea Higashi Hongwanji at 338-1847, or the Hanapepe Soto Zen Temple at 245-2841 for more information.
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.