Obon – a Japanese Buddhist tradition dating back 500 years — is a time to remember and honor spirits of family members and loved ones who have passed away. It can also help family members who are still living find peace for themselves and celebrate life. Obon Festivals are surprisingly quite energetic and active! Tourists and outsiders are more than welcome to attend an Obon Festival to experience an age old cultural tradition in person.
During the summer months on Maui you can attend a traditional Obon Festival somewhere on the island almost every weekend. Obon festivals usually start around 6:30 – 7 pm and end around 9 – 10 pm because evening is when the spirits are said to be the most active.
Obon Festivals are held outdoors at a temple, mission, or even in a large parking lot. They are free to attend. Many festivals will have booths with tasty Japanese food to purchase, like tempura, udon, noodles, corn, chicken, or beef teriyaki, sushi, and chow fun to enjoy before the dancing begins around 8 pm. Usually there are children’s activities and sometimes even entertainment by Taiko drumming groups.
Attendees will wear anything from kimonos to jeans, shorts, and T-shirts. Most of the kimonos you’ll see are brightly colored and intricately designed.
Men, women, elders, and very small children can participate in the Bon Odori (Bon dance or folk dance). Dancers in multiple lines go round and round a center stage in unison, using traditional hand and foot dance movements to accompany Japanese folk music. Even if you don’t know the dances, tourists and other attendees are encouraged to join in. The hand movements are repetitive and can be picked up easily It is said ancestors’ spirits dance with loved ones and a peaceful feeling comes upon the dancers.
Here are a few Obon Festivals around the island you won’t want to miss.
June 4 Lahaina Shingon Mission
June 11 Puunene Nichiren Mission
June 17 Wailuku Jodo Mission
June 18 Wailuku Shingon Mission
June 24 Kahului Jodo Mission
July 2 Lahaina Jodo Mission
July 8/9 Paia Mantokuji Soto Mission
July 15 Kahului Hongwanji Mission
July 22/23 Makawao Hongwanji Mission
July 29 Wailuku Hongwanji Mission