‘Happi’ times at bon dance

HANAPEPE — Briana Kasman of Chicago said she and her friend felt lucky that they found matching happi coats Saturday at the Kauai Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Kasman, an Americorps volunteer who is working on Kauai Habitat for Humanity projects, used the coats later that evening to learn more about the island’s culture by participating in this year’s bon dance at the Hanapepe Soto Zen Temple.

“They were so cute,” said Carol Iwata, another Chicago resident who was helping at the church. “They actually ended work early so they could come to the bon dance. And, after finding the happi coats, came back, again.”

Mike Muir, the Americorps coordinator on Kauai, said the girls were having so much fun in the ring, dancing with the other visitors and dancers.

“We were so lucky the ReStore had happi coats in our size,” Kasman said. “And, they weren’t expensive.”

Iwata, who was born on Kauai but now lives in Chicago, said Roger Ebert, a widely known film critic who died earlier this year, will be remembered on Kauai.

“I picked up a chochin, or lantern, in his memory,” said Iwata, who worked for Ebert as a personal assistant for 20 years. “Kauai people know who Roger Ebert is, so now he’ll be remembered each bon.”

Gerald Hirata of the Hanapepe Soto Zen Temple said bon dances have been a summer cultural event on the island for a long time. Hirata said he was pleased to have people like Iwata and the Americorps volunteers become involved in the event.

This year, the traditional bon dance ring was relocated to an area in front of the temple to give more room to those people standing in the many lines for favorite bon dance foods like pronto pups, flying saucers and manju.

A special treat included the Somei Taiko group performance led by Rev. Shuji Komagata of the Aiea church on Oahu.

“They’re really good,” said Cynthia Chiang, a taiko performer with several groups on Kauai. “They have a lot of power, colorful uniforms and dancing.”

The weekend’s bon dance also marked the final time for people to view the “Buddhist Temples in Hawaii” traveling exhibit sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Society and authored by University of Hawaii professors George and Willa Tanabe.

The bon dance also provided a place for people to help Kauai Museum volunteer Roy Miyake identify people in four photographs from an internment camp as a part of a special museum project.

Mils Tanji of Tacoma, Wash., was home for a visit and discovered his grandfather, Shizuma Tanji of Kipu, in one of the four photographs.

“Hobie (Goodale) used to talk a lot about a Tanji in Kipu,” Kauai Museum curator Chris Faye  said. “I think this is the same person. Roy has about half of the people identified since the bon dance season started in Waimea.”

Faye said he believes he has permission to have the photos at all of the church bon dances.

“When we get to the Kapaa Soto Mission bon dance, a lot of the North Shore people will have an opportunity to view the photos and we should be able to get more names to the faces,” Faye said.

This week’s bon dances move to the Koloa Soto Mission church adjacent to the Koloa First Hawaiian Bank.


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