Community Events: Obon Festivals Around O‘ahu

During Hawai‘i’s summer months, temple courtyards and parking lots are lit up with lanterns. The aroma of barbecue and different foods fills the air. The loud beat of the taiko drums keep tempo for the people who dance the bon odori (folk dances) in unison around the drummers.

Obon festival, also known as the Festival of Lanterns, is a tradition rooted in Buddhism that commemorates the dead. Traditionally, families light lanterns and visit the graves of loved ones who have passed on, offering flowers, food, and drinks. It is based on a Buddhist text that tells the story of a devout monk who danced for joy after releasing his mother’s spirit from the hungry ghost realm.

Today, people of all ages and religious backgrounds dance in celebration of being alive and to honor those who have passed on. Different Obon Festivals have already started around Hawai’i and many more will follow throughout summer, with food vendors, performances, and activities. Join the circle of dance at some of these larger Obon festivals around O‘ahu:

Wahiawa Ryusenji Soto Mission
164 California Ave | July 18 & 19 | 7 p.m.
Taiko performances at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. both nights
Okinawan dancing at 8:15 p.m. on the 19th

Haleiwa Jodo Mission
66-279-A Haleiwa Road | July 18 & 19 | 8 p.m.
Service at 6:30 p.m. both nights
Floating lantern ceremony at 9:30 p.m. on the 19th

Koganji Temple
2869 Oahu Ave | Aug. 1 & 2 | 5:30 p.m.
Country Store opens at 5:30 p.m.
Taiko performances at 8:30 p.m. both nights
Children’s latern parade at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 1

Mililani Hongwanji
95-257 Kaloapau St. | Aug. 15 & 16 | 7 p.m.
Craft fair begins at 5 p.m.
Lantern parade at 6:45 p.m. on Aug. 15

Hawaii United Okinawa Association
Kapiolani Park (in conjunction w/ the Okinawan Festival) | Aug. 30 | 5:30 p.m.
Food booths open 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Windward Community College
45-720 Keaahala Road | Sept. 13 | 6 p.m.
Autumn Festival

Images by Aaron Yoshino. See the full set from the Honpa Hongwanji Obon festival here.

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