Summer in Hawaii usually brings in an abundance of three things: Mango, lychee and Obon dances. These celebrations held across the state are a Japanese tradition — the observance of Obon, held in memory of our departed family members.
Festivals feature food and, of course, a big group Obon dance. Everyone is welcome but for first-timers, and those who haven’t gone in so long that they’re practically newbies, the idea of joining the crowd of experienced dancers can be intimidating.
1 – Find a seat or set up your portable chairs when you first arrive. Most temples have seating areas for spectators but often do not have enough chairs for everyone. Don’t forget about the occasional rain showers during the summer, so be prepared and bring an umbrella.
2 – Attend a practice. Want to dance? Temples usually do a practices months prior to the dance night. It’s an opportunity for everyone in the family to see what will happen and become familiar with the moves in a less intimidating setting.
3 – Ask before you jump in. At an Obon Dance, find an experienced dancer and follow his or her lead. But note, before you cut into the line, it is polite to ask the person behind the spot if it is okay.
4 – Don’t stop moving. Even if you get confused, keep walking with the line. Sudden stops can mess up the person behind you.
5 – Wear comfortable clothing and covered shoes. Dressing in the appropriate dance attire respects the tradition and culture. If you want to find traditional outfits for the family, merchants in Honolulu at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii gift shop in Moiliili, Marukai on Kamehameha Highway in Kalihi and Sanki in Pearl City, may be able to assist you.
6 – Watch for different snacks. You can usually find shave ice, spam musubi and fried noodles. But many bon dances serve different items. Keep an eye out for snacks best eaten fresh at these events including andagi, a fried Okinawan doughnut with the texture of a dense doughnut, and the renowned Kauai’s “Flying Saucer.”