Bon dance goes virtual

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    From left, Gerald Hirata, Blanche Suga, Kay Hill and Ann Hashisaka look over the selection of face masks created out of a bon dance towel for the virtual bon dance, at the Kalaheo Kaua‘i Kookie restaurant Friday.

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    From left, Jennifer Hayakawa, Skye Tadani, Alicia Hayakawa and Cynthia Chiang get together Friday afternoon for bon dance practice at the Hanapepe Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji.

KALAHEO — Ann Hashisaka of Kaua‘i Kookie was overjoyed to learn the yagura has been put up at the Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji in Hanapepe.

“You can’t have a bon dance without the yagura,” Hashisaka said. “It’s not the same. If you want a bon dance, you need the yagura.”

Gerald Hirata, president of the Kaua‘i Soto Zen Temple Zenshuji, said he erected the yagura Thursday in preparation for the virtual bon dance scheduled to take place Saturday, Aug. 22, from 5 to 6 p.m. through Facebook and YouTube Live.

Hirata said that, since learning of the cancellation of the bon dance season by the Kaua‘i Buddhist Council, he was not content to just accept the fact there would be no bon dance.

“Ann from Kaua‘i Kookie — they’re our neighbors across the highway — wanted to know what we were going to do because bon dance is a fundraiser for the church,” Hirata said.

“A lot of people approached us offering help. Although we have canceled our Soto Zen Bon Festival, we will not forgo a long-standing tradition. Obon is a time to remember those who came before us. Ancestral spirits return to visit. This is a time of joy for families and friends, a celebration of life,” he said.

“Since March, with the novel coronavirus crisis, our lives have been transformed,” said Hirata, meeting at the Kauai Kookie restaurant in Kalaheo. “We live by different rules and norms. Some of our customs and traditions that we have valued and practiced have been stymied. In order to continue honoring those values, we have to adapt accordingly, and find a way to continue these traditions.”

Hirata pointed out the bon-dance towel and its transformation in the face of the pandemic.

“My brother loved wearing the bon-dance towel,” Hashisaka said. “He even used it as a face mask when COVID-19 hit.”

Laura Kawamura, Hashisaka’s partner in crime during the soup distribution hosted by kumu hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin and Ka Lei Mokihana o Leina‘ala halau, raised the towel to the next level, redesigning it to become face masks and tote bags.

“The bon-dance towel, or tenugui, is an iconic image of obon celebrations,” Hirata said. “It has multiple uses, as a dress adornment, a decorative headband, a dance implement, and as a kerchief to wipe off the sweat of exhausted dancers and drummers,” he said.

“We transformed the towel to be a symbol of change, to show our resilience and our way of addressing the pandemic itself. We used the towels to make face masks and tote bags (that Hashisaka claims one can wear while dancing). We turned it into a slogan: ‘wear a mask. Face the pandemic with the spirit of bon, and carry on the aloha spirit.’”

Starting with a hundred towels and enlisting the help of Blanche Suga, Kay Hill and their friends, the face masks in varying styles and tote bags are available as fundraising via

Kaua‘i Kookie will lend its neighborly spirit to create manju as a dessert for the drive-thru bento lunch that will be available for pickup in sufficient time to return home and enjoy the virtual bon dance. The bento will also be enhanced by flying saucers created by Japanese Grandma Keiko Napier and available on a drive-thru basis. Details for ordering and prepayment are currently being worked out and should be available shortly, Hirata said.

“This is like an intermission dance,” said Hashisaka. “Everyone wanted to do this. We at Kaua‘i Kookie wanted to do this because we want to be part of the fabric of the community.”

Hirata said it’s like a real bon dance with taiko drummers. The Rev. Kohtoku Hirao will be performing, and there will be some live dancers in the ring.

“This is about the human spirit in difficult times,” Hirata said. “A Japanese proverb says, ‘The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.’ Like the bamboo, we must bend and not break.”


Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or

  1. Kathy Deutsch August 8, 2020 5:37 am Reply

    Thrilled to see this spirit!
    Mahalo for carrying on!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.