WAILUKU - Bon dancing on summer weekends at Buddhist temples islandwide has evolved to include local touches, and to differ from the celebrations in Japan and those brought to the islands by Japanese immigrants in the late 1800s, said the resident minister at Wailuku Hongwanji Mission.
"Bon odori (bon dance) was started in Japan many years ago, but through the years we accepted many other cultures and created our own style of dancing," said the Rev. Shinkai Murakami in a news release. "The music is from Japan, but we also adopted American songs, such as 'Beautiful Sunday.' Several dances are much different from ones in Japan. Local dance leaders created their unique Hawaiian styles."
Bon dancers may find chow fun, chicken teriyaki plate, saimin, andagi and other local and Japanese dishes to munch on when leaving the dancing circles. Paper lanterns dot the scene. Taiko drummers often drive the beat of songs. Dancers don colorful kimonos and happi coats.
"It's amazing that the bon dance has become one of Hawaii's popular summer cultural events," he said.
From the Buddhist perspective, the bon dance and O-bon celebration began with Buddha's disciple, Mogallana, in India a couple thousand years ago, as told in the "Ullambana Sutra," Murakami said. It's a sutra about filial piety and a son's effort to rescue his mother.
According to the sutra, Mogallana's mother worked hard to provide for her son but was blind to the suffering she was causing others. She became selfish and did everything for her son, often to the detriment of others.
When Mogallana became one of the Buddha's great disciples, he used his powers to search for his deceased mother and found her in "hungry hell." He offered her a bowl of rice soup, which she did not share with others. As she is about to eat, the soup is transformed into blazing fire and burns her face.
Mogallana made it rain to cool her, but as the drops fell on his mother they turned to nails.
The disciple went to his master for help. The Buddha suggested he offer special services, which Mogallana did. The services saved his mother from hungry hell.
"He expressed his gratitude and joy by clapping his hands and jumping around," said Murakami. "From this joyful act was born the bon odori or bon dance."
O-bon is a time to cherish the memories of departed ancestors and to appreciate their guidance, efforts and wisdom, said the minister. Many people visit grave sites and hold services for their departed loved ones.
In the broader Buddhist and Japanese communities, O-bon is a time to welcome the souls of people who have died - though this is not how the Jodo Shinshu sect, of which the Hongwanji temples are a part, look upon the celebration, Murakami said.
"O-bon season is a time for us to think about our precious lives and appreciate Amida Buddha's true wisdom and compassion," he said. "It is for giving us encouragement in our lives through the teaching of the Nembutsu . . . (which) is a dynamic teaching of Amida Buddha that helps man see himself as he really is and heads him to enlightenment."
Wailuku Hongwanji's O-bon services and dancing will be held Aug. 6 and 7. Services will begin at 7 p.m., with dancing to follow. The public is invited to the event on the temple grounds at 1828 Vineyard St. in Wailuku.
For more information, call 244-0406.