KAPAA — Elaine Morita silently smiled from her vantage point on the wall at the unfolding scene of people streaming through the doors of Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital Friday night.
“She has a lei on,” said Cheryl Morita, Elaine’s daughter. “It’s her favorite flower, too — a strand of pakalana.”
Josie Pablo, Hawaii Health Systems Corporation regional recreational director, said Morita, who worked at Mahelona Hospital, was the inspiration that started the bon dance tradition.
“It’s been 20 years already,” Pablo said. “I can’t believe how time flies. Elaine wanted this for our residents who are not able to get to the community bon dances. ‘Why not bring the bon dance to them?’ I remember those words even if Elaine is no longer here.”
Through the help of community groups, hospital staff, and residents, the bon dance came alive in the courtyard of the hospital, complete with keiki activities, food, taiko performances, and the bon dancing that followed a brief memorial service led by Rev. Mieko Majima of the Kapaa Hongwanji Mission.
“We have generations, here,” said John Wehrheim. “JoAnn Yukimura is out there, somewhere. And we have our daughter Maile here, too.”
Yukimura was settling her mother Jenny Yukimura to visit with one of the residents from the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital who were bussed over for the festive event, kindling memories of how people in distant communities reunited at the bon dances.
“It’s been 20 years?” said James Yamamoto who was recording the event for the benefit of Pearl and Gloria Shimizu of the Kauai Japanese Cultural Society. “It’s been 20 years, and this is the first time I’m coming here. Where have I been?”
Bon dance, and the obon season, is steeped in religion with the common thread of the spirits of ancestors returning to Earth during the obon season and rejoining with the people who are living here.
“This is bon,” Pablo said. “Elaine is visiting us, and smiling.”
The tradition arrived in Hawaii with the immigrant Japanese laborers and grew in the melting pot of the plantation era, blossoming into community fundraising events for the Buddhist churches.
“We have the first bon dance of the season,” Pablo said. “Traditionally, we are at the end of the season, but August is such a busy time for us at the hospital. I’m glad we got moved to start the season. The Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital will have the final bon dance following the last one hosted by the Kauai Buddhist Council.”
The next bon dance will be hosted by the Kauai Soto Zen Temple in Hanapepe on May 31, and June 1. Traditionally, there is a bon service that starts at 6:30 p.m. followed by a performance by Taiko Kauai, and bon dancing to start at approximately 7:20 p.m.