We came, we saw, we (mostly) avoided the coronavirus. Or at least that’s what Hawai‘i’s innovative Buddhist temples, and other island organizations, did for obon season last summer. A little over a year after 2020 saw the rise of the digital (streamed, videorecorded, socially distanced) bon dance — and after we patiently followed directions to march through several phases of the national vaccination effort — Hawai‘i now ranks eighth among U.S. states leading the attempt to reach herd immunity through its population’s mass vaccine. We fall below national COVID-19 vax leaders Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico but above the 42 other states of the union, as of May 19 (according to Becker’s Hospital Review).
With 44.2% of our island population fully vaccinated, many local residents want to follow New York — which this May 7 saw the highest subway ridership since March 13, 2020 — and San Francisco and Kansas City — where symphonies recently returned to in-person musician performances before live concert-hall audiences, according to the Wall St. Journal — and return to our regular summer activities.
In other words, we want to boogie to the cracklin’ sounds of yagura speakers playing “Tankö Bushi.” We crave to join in on the bon-odori, to celebrate those deceased family whom we have cherished and honored every year, June through Labor Day. And not just in front of a screen, anymore.
With elderly worshippers making up a hefty portion of their congregations, however, Hawai‘i temples and community groups that usually organize obon-season events are understandably still playing it safe. The Hawai‘i Herald discovered this when making our usual exploratory round of calls to O‘ahu and neighbor island temples in late April and early May. As local county, state and national government rules about outdoor gatherings seem to change by the moment, various boards of directors, bishops, ministers and temple staff in charge of event planning seem to be adopting a “wait and see” strategy to obon activities.
Many Buddhist leaders have in fact organized small-scale, mask-requiring, socially-distanced events for their regular congregants and dues-paying temple-goers exclusively (for example, we heard of several organizations offering hatsubon or first-year obon services only to official temple members).
But most Buddhist groups are holding still on final plans, until their county (or island) political leaders and Civil Defense officials issue new statements in light of the Thursday, May 13, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement that people vaccinated two full weeks ago can stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in many, if not most, indoor settings — contingent on what these local county and state governments decide (cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html). The CDC notified Americans that they could follow this new guideline “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.“
This was part of the vaccination campaign to encourage people to get their shots so as to return to the workplace and re-open the country (For more, see apnews.com/article/coronavirus-masks-cdc-guidelines-9d10c8b5f80a4ac720fa1df2a4fb93e5). However, what it means for obon planning is that your local temple, shopping or community center or usual location of the neighborhood bon dance (and other activities such as gravesite visits) is waiting to hear from the county government before finalizing a schedule of events.
For now, encourage your temple or community organization to send in the information we are requesting (see related article in this issue), so we can print up the latest event details in our June and July issues.
And for ideas, here are some wonderful examples showing how Hawai‘i and other temples across the nation had set up their digital yagura in 2020. Thanks to Pat Ozeki for forwarding these examples adapted from a well-researched email by Ken Okimoto of the Big Island Buddhist Federation.
O‘ahu: 2020 Haleiwa Jodo Mission Virtual Bon Dance with a bare minimum no. of dancers around the yagura performing for a little over a half-hour: youtube.com/watch?v=FDKgK59LJf8&t=1446s.
O‘ahu: HUOA 2020 Virtual Okinawan Festival – about an hour of bon-odori with past and contemporary footage: youtube.com/watch?v=vw9DX6DExQE.
Hawai‘i island: Honoka‘a Hongwanji Buddhist Temple – Bon Dance with Social Distancing in Hawai‘i (based on a Big Island Video News report last Aug.) shows how creative those outer island Buddhists and community members can be, with mobile bon-odori, graveyard-dancing, private home yard-dancing and other inventive activities: youtube.com/watch?v=Hxieg7kPxtY.
Hawai‘i island: Puna Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Obon Festival 2020, the “Safer-at-Home” Edition including dance lessons: youtube.com/watch?v=FdxVjg0Hd9U.
Hawai‘i island: Four-Temple 2020 Virtual Obon of the Hamakua Coast (Papaikou Hongwanji Mission, Honomu Hongwanji Mission, Honohina Hongwanji Mission and Papaaloa Hongwanji Mission) has a little of everything — temple history, past bon-odori footage and photo montages, digital maps by Google to show where each temple is located, beautiful temple bells and lush Big Isle grounds for dancing, o-senko offering inside the shrines, sermon excerpts, mobile dancing and shots of delicious food for congregants: youtube.com/watch?v=ou4cFPKy9ZI.
Kaua‘i: 2020 Virtual Bon Dance – about an hour, co-organized by Koloa Jodo Mission and Kapa‘a Jodo Mission including gorgeous images of the shrines, chöchin and kimono: youtube.com/watch?v=Z5y9ybeFMcY.
California: Los Angeles Higashi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple Virtual Obon 2020; this features koto playing, artwork, recipes and musical performances: youtube.com/watch?v=_w0bUpHbtkU&t=4s.
Washington: Tacoma Buddhist Temple – Virtual Obon 2020 including origami-folding, taiko performance, ichigo daifuku demonstration, etc.: youtube.com/watch?v=ZwN6nCr_j6A.
Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple – Obon-Odori 2020 which includes lantern dedication (virtual), a humorously written intermission and taiko and koto playing: youtube.com/watch?v=nHvl7eT27OU.
New Jersey: Virtual Obon Festival 2020 by Seabrook Buddhist Temple organized by Rev. Ikeda (once of Puna Hongwanji); though not shown on this video, this temple held a drive-through along a pathway with exhibits and demonstrations laid out across temple grounds: youtube.com/watch?v=ZwN6nCr_j6A.
SEND US YOUR OBON-SEASON EVENT INFO
To the ministers in the Buddhist temple community and leaders of other organizations that host events related to obon season:
We at “The Hawai‘i Herald: Hawai‘i’s Japanese American Journal” are putting together a schedule of summer 2021 obon events. We welcome your sharing with us your group’s dates, times, and other relevant information for any of the following events which your organization may have planned for the season.
• TYPE OF EVENT
◦ Obon service
◦ Cemetery prayer, columbarium visit, or gravesite visit
◦ Hatsubon service
◦ Urabon service
◦ Toro nagashi event
◦ Bon-odori dance
◦ Other spiritual, family, artistic or educational efforts on this season/tradition
• NAME OF TEMPLE OR ORGANIZATION
◦ If you are in charge of more than one temple or community organization that holds obon events, please also share information with your other group’s (or groups’) activities, as well, naming that organization.
• EVENT MODE
◦ Will the event be held in person, hybrid, or virtual (and if so, will it be live-streaming, prerecorded, etc.)?
◦ Are you doing things that require special directions, such as drive-by, drive-in or other socially distanced activity? Explain briefly.
◦ Any other event guidelines or rules? [For instance, wearing masks or social distancing in a particular location? Another example: is this open to the public or only to temple members?
• CONTACT INFO
◦ Is there a phone no., email address and/or website (URL) that you would like us to share, for those who have questions? A contact person to whom to address inquiries?
◦ How can people join up with your social media, email lists, news feeds, phone networks, newsletter subscriptions or other ways to receive updated obon info?
We will start running an obon calendar beginning in the Friday, June 4, issue, so if you have made plans, we would like to get the above information by Wednesday, May 26.
For additions to this calendar in our Friday June 18, issue, let us know the above details by Wednesday, June 9.
For additions to the obon calendar in our Friday, July 2, issue, let us know these details by Wednesday, June 23.
We may print updates to our summer obon calendar after the July 2 issue, as well. From after July 2, your information about these seasonal events might, alternatively, be included in our Community Focus or Bulletin Board sections, depending on how many responses we receive. The sooner we receive the information, the better.
Also, if your obon event date falls in between our issues, we may post this info to our website or social media (depending on how often this occurs).
We hope you can take advantage of this annual opportunity to share your event info with Herald readers who look forward to making their obon plans and attending these traditional community events!
Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu and In Gassho,
Hawaiʻi Herald staff