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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

O-bon season kicks off in Waipahu

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

The annual O-Bon season began with a ritual dance last night at Hawai'i's Plantation Village in Waipahu.

Kimberly Hanaoka of Honolulu dressed for the bon dance yesterday at Hawai'i's Plantation Village in Waipahu. Bon dances are an integral part of the O-Bon season, a Japanese tradition of honoring ancestors.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

More than 100 people attended, some dancers as young as 3 years old, others old enough to remember teachers who are long dead.

Howard Sugai, a member of the Army Reservewho also spends weekends dancing and playing drums, said he started performing at age 14. That was in 1962.

Sugai said he and a group of dancers were taught by Konomu Shishido, a man who knew every aspect of the bon dance, from drums to flutes to movements. Shishido died many years ago, Sugai said, and many of the Shishido's students are now too old to dance.

Members of the Yamada Dance group said their teacher, Betty Delacuesta, was experienced but still going strong.

Delacuesta said she always includes upbeat tunes among the traditional Japanese compositions played at the events to keep young people interested.

"It is the younger ones who will carry on the tradition," she said.

The Buddhist tradition honors family members who have died, but also brings friends and family members together for a ritual that is meant to help free people from everyday cares.

Thousands of people statewide participate in bon dances, and some popular dances can draw hundreds of participants at a time.

"The deceased come back once a year, and this is our way of welcoming them," Delacuesta said.

Each summer weekend, dances are held at temples and other gathering places. The dances also have become an opportunity for cross-cultural sharing, with people touring temples, learning dances and enjoying the ethnic foods traditionally sold at the events.

Susan Higashide said she and her husband usually attend most of the dances. Her husband performed with the Young Okinawans, a group that adds Okinawan folk music to the rhythms of the evening.

"I like the performances," Higashide said. "And sometimes the food."

Bon dances will continue through September. Several more are scheduled this month:

  • Today: Pan-Pacific Festival Bon Dance, 6:30-9 p.m, Kapi'olani Park. 926-8177.
  • June 23: 'Ewa Hongwanji Mission, 7:30 p.m., 91-1133 Renton Road. 681-5222.
  • June 29-30: Honpa Hongwanji Betsuin, 7:30 p.m., 1727 Pali Highway. 536-7044; Wahiawa, Hongwanji Mission, 7:30 p.m., 1067-A California Ave. 622-4320.