The characteristic of the Bon Dance in Hawaii is the long schedule.
In Hawaii, Bon Dance is held somewhere around in every weekend during the period from June through September. There is a long history in this method of holding Bon Dances, and this is the characteristic of the Bon Dance culture in Hawaii. Also, this is the proof that Bon Dance was being loved by the people of Hawaii.
First, let’s take a look at the list of the Bon Dance schedule in 2008, and let’s realize the scale and structure of it.
(Chart) This chart was drawn up based on the data posted on the homepage of The Hawaii Herald
If we look at the chart, we are surprised once again by the great scale of Bon Dance in Hawaii.
Every year when summer comes close, The Hawaii Herald which has many Japanese descents’ readers, publishes the schedule of Bon Dances held in Hawaii islandwide, and the information is quoted in many sites. This chart was also drawn up based on its data. The number and the subject of the dances slightly change depending on the year, but approximately 80 sites appear in the recent years, and 82 sites appeared on 2008.
From this chart, we can instantly read the following characteristics.
*Bon Dances are danced in every island of Hawaii “the 6 islands of Hawaii”.
*The sites where the dances are held are mostly “Buddhist Temples”. There are also some event type dances.
*It is held once a season in one temple.
*The schedule adjustment is made in each island so that the dances do not overlap in the neighboring temples.
*The period when the dances are held is mainly July and August, and they are also held in June and September
*It is mainly held on weekends, such as Friday and Saturday. They are sometimes held on consecutive days.
*As they hold the Bon Dance, there are events such as performances of drums and Toro Nagashi (Send the spirits off).
The schedule adjustments between temples
The big reason why the schedule is described as above is largely because of the needs of the Buddhist temples where the Bon Dances are held.
Since many people gather to Bon Dance, there are monetary offerings, and earnings from stalls, so it is an attractive event for the temples. However, as the population of the surrounding area such as the followers and supporters of the temples are limited, both temples would not be able to secure the participants if the Bon Dance is held on the same day in the same area. Naturally, there comes out the idea to adjust the schedule.
Even a larger factor is the presence of the groups that are in charge of the live music of the traditional type of Bon Dancing tunes.
An important element that livens up the Bon Dance of Hawaii is the “live” performance of the traditional type dance tunes by the amateur musicians’ group such as “Fukushima Bon Dance Club” and Eisa type groups. In these live performances, the participants liven up more than the prerecorded music of CD or cassette tape. However, as the number of these groups and its member is limited, it is not enough even if they participate in plural Bon Dance sites.
Therefore, a method that each temples and the groups talk with each other beforehand and arrange the schedule during the Bon Dance season have taken hold, so that the live groups can come to their temples. As a result, the period of Bon Dance has become 4 months exceeding the original period of July and August.
According to the research by Yukari Nakahara who is well up on the Bon Dance in Hawaii, there was an agreement that “neighboring temples and temples of the same denomination make out the schedule by arranging the program” from the 1930s. By this, we can see that the Bon Dance culture of schedule arrangements has a very old history.
Further, let’s see the characteristics of how they hold Bon Dances.
Chart 2 The ratio of holding Bon Dances depending on the island (2008)
If we compare the number of the Bon Dances held among the 6 main islands, 30 locations (37%) in Oahu Island, and 27 locations (33%) in Hawaii Island is great in number, and these two islands compose 70% of the total.
The population of the present Hawaii is concentrated in Oahu Island (approximately 900 thousand people) where Honolulu is located, and the second Hawaii Island is 170 thousand people. By this, we know that the distribution of Bon Dance is greatly biased compared with the population distribution.
We can see that geographical and historical circumstances of the immigration from Japan have an influence to the distribution of the Bon Dance.
Hawaii Island is the mecca of Bon Dance
(August 9, 2008, Hilo Hawaii Island)
Chart 3 Ratio of holding Bon Dances according to the month
Chart 4 Ratio of holding Bon Dances according to the day of the week
Only Saturday Friday and Saturday consecutively Only Friday
[Ratio of holding Bon Dances according to the month]
Bon Dances are held mainly in July and August which is the (O-bon month), but approximately half of it is held in July and it is a different from the Bon Dance in Japan (O-bon) nowadays which they hold mainly in August. By the way, also in Japan, the change from O-bon of the lunar calendar to that of the solar calendar is proceeding after the Meiji era.
[Ratio of holding Bon Dances according to the day of the week]
It seems that there was a time when they held Bon Dances in Saturday and Sunday, but now they hold on Friday and Saturday. The reason why they concentrated the days they hold Bon Dances to the weekends (it’s usually off from work) is related to their intention to secure as many participants to the Bon Dance as possible, but at the same time the schedule of O-bon overlapped with the day of the week culture of the western countries.
Further, memorial service for Nii-bon (The first O-bon that the families of the dead see) is performed on the days that Bon Dances are held after schedule arrangements. The schedule of O-bon in Hawaii greatly shifted from that of the Japanese O-bon and Bon Dance by the scheduling dynamics of the local area in Hawaii. Thus, the Bon Dance culture that is original to Hawaii was created.
(Reference) Comparison of the period that the Bon Dances are held (Hawaii and Japan)
It seems that in Japanese archipelago today, Bon Dances are held mainly in August. However, schedule arrangements in the neighboring area, and schedule shift to weekends and holidays are made to secure the number of the participants to Bon Dance, and it seems that the same dynamics is working as that of Hawaii.
In respect of the period being long, “Gujo Odori” in Gifu prefecture is famous for holding a Bon Dance for 2 months from July to September independently. The lengthening of the period of Bon Dance could be seen from the end of the Edo era, but it was after the WW 2 that it became as long as today.
On the other hand, the schedule arrangements have been made between plural Bon Dances of the traditional type Bon Dances.
For example, a representative one is “Ohmiya Odori” in Okayama prefecture, famous for the people dancing in the main hall of the temple. Formerly in Hiruyama Basin, Bon Dances were held in the main hall of the temples and shrines in the villages of Yatsuka, Chuka, Kawakami, Futakawa from July 14 through 19 of the lunar calendar in sequence. Especially, the Bon Dance of Fukuda Temple (commonly known as Ohmiya-san) is famous, and people from distant areas gathered to dance. The setting of dancing periods like these are made in Kemanai Bon Dance in Akita prefecture, and we can see that the adjustments of dancing periods were made rather flexibly in the old days Japan.
The long dancing period and the flexibility of adjusting the schedule is indeed the characteristics of Bon Dance in Hawaii, but we can also think from the view point that the culture of Bon Dance itself had the flexibility from the beginning.
*1 Refer to the background materials 1.
1.”ハワイ日系人のボン・ダンスの変遷” written by Yukari Nakahara (included in “民俗音楽の課題と方法” written and edited by Nobuo Mizuno and published by 世界思想社, 2002)
2.Van Zile, Judy. The Japanese Bon Dance in Hawaii. Honolulu: Press Pacifica 1982
3.”岡山県史第16巻民俗Ⅱ” 岡山県史編纂委員会, 1983
- 1.The distribution of Bon Dance in the overseas.
- 2.Bon Dance of Hawaii – The distribution and characteristics
- 3.The parent body and the participants of Bon Dance
- 5.The location of Bon Dance
- 6. ”Dance Tunes” and their types
- 7.The composition and fashion of Bon Dance
- 8.The composition of “Odori-kyoku”-Hondo type and Okinawan type
- 9. Bon Dancing in Hawaii : The lyrics and refrains
- 10. Bon Dancing in Hawaii : History
- 11.Talking about Bon Dance in Hawaii : Professor Judy Van Zile from The University of Hawaii