Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Obon

The summer season is
upon us in full swing,
though the past two months of cooler
than normal temperatures and
unseasonable steady rains make things seem
a little more like we are still in the 
throes of winter.

So... when the opportunity to escape
the rains of the eastern island slopes
presented itself last saturday evening,
I gladly grabbed cameras & headed to the
island's west side for what is arguably
the most colorful and joyous ceremony on
the island events calendar.

Obon(sometimes simply called "Bon")season 
has begun. A buddhist-confucian custom 
which brings families together to honor spirits
of the ancestors, cleaning grave sites and preparing
for the spirits return to family altars.

While all of this might sound quite solemn,
quite the opposite is in evidence, at least the 
Jodo Buddhist Mission in Lahaina, an elaborate
shrine featuring multi-roofed pagodas, the largest 
bronze Buddha sculpture outside of Japan and home
 to the only floating lantern ceremony 
held on Maui.

Things begin with rituals held for temple 
members inside one of two shrines housed
at the mission site. As the sun begins to sink
into the western ocean, the faithful take up glowing
paper lanterns embellished with kanji script, drawings, 
notes and prayers for departed loved ones. lantern bearers
then begin a procession to the lagoon edge 
fronting the temple, where waiting attendants 
take each lantern and place them on small
 rafts to be used later in the proceedings
 to ferry the illuminated lanterns out to the
 edge of the reef where each lantern is 
carefully set adrift to 
follow tides & current.

Once lanterns are committed to the sea,
the real fun begins with the Obon dance. 
Revelers don colorful kimonos and gather 'round
a brightly lit tower set up on the grounds
from which emanates the steady drumbeat
of the Taiko accompanied by taped music
traditional to Japan. Dancers move en-masse 
around the tower using simple, prescribed
steps, hand gestures & claps. Everyone is 
welcome, the dance is quite easy to pick-up
once you've observed a couple of spins around
the tower. Ringing the circle of dance, the 
atmosphere is more likened to a country fair 
with delicious food stalls selling prepared
delicacies, candies, shave ice. Teens hide in the
shadows, flirting shyly. Temple members, tourists
and non-buddhist community members alike
all come together for the celebration. 

Obon season continues for the next several 
weeks with dances being held each weekend 
at various temples around the island. 
Check your local listings for a schedule 
and then get out and enjoy one of the 
truly great ways to spend summer's 
evening in Hawaii!

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