(4) The location of Bon Dance


We have been watching the characteristics of Bon Dance in Hawaii from a macro point of view such as its ethnic backgrounds and the schedule of the dance. From this chapter, we would like to approach the aspect of Bon Dance in Hawaii from a more micro point of view. One of the big points is the location where the Bon Dances are danced.

Bon Dances that are danced in “the temples”

As we saw in “the schedule”, Bon Dances in Hawaii are mostly held in “the temples”. Today in Hawaii, there are Buddhist temples of plural denominations, mainly Hompa Hongwanji (Nishi Hongwanji), and the total number is a hundred and couple dozen. Approximately 80 of these temples are the venue of Bon Dances.


To put it concretely, open spaces next to the temples become the venue of Bon Dances, such as courtyards or parking lots of the temples. A “Yagura (scaffold)” is set up in the center of the open space, and the circle of the dance will be formed around that. Chairs will be placed around the venue for the gallery, and there are stalls selling homemade cookies and snacks.


Our honest impression is that the Bon Dance in Hawaii looks pretty much the same as that in Japan. But if we look carefully, there are differences with the Bon Dance in Japan after all.

Bon Dance venue in the urban area of Honolulu. It seems that it is a little bit small.

(August 8, 2008, Ala Moana, Oahu)


In the spacious Hawaii Island, the venue of Bon Dance is also spacious. (August 9, 2008, the outskirts of Hilo, Hawaii Island)


<<Comparison between Japan and Hawaii>> The relations between the temples and Bon Dance. 


Even in Japan, there are cases in which the people dance Bon Dances in the garden of the temples if it’s traditional type of Bon Dances or Nembutu Dances. However, the big difference between Bon Dance in Hawaii and that in Japan is that in Hawaii, most Bon Dances are danced in the temples and the venue is extremely concentrated to temples.


Also, in case of Bon Dances in Japan, the temples only provide the venue for the Bon Dances, and they usually don’t become voluntarily and positively engaged to the holding of Bon Dances. On the other hand, in case of Bon Dances in Hawaii, the temples not only provide the venue but it is deeply and multilaterally engaged with Bon Dances such as the schedule planning, framework of the event, dance songs, the parent organization and the actor of the Bon Dance.


It seems that “the temples (=Buddhist temples)” is a major key for understanding Bon Dance in Hawaii. How did the Buddhist temples appear in Hawaii, and become the venue for Bon Dances? Let’s go back to the 19th century and look at the process.


A short history of the Buddhist temples in Hawaii   


In 1885, the Japanese immigration to Hawaii has started in earnest. Bon Dance is already danced in the Japanese camp (group habitation area of the Japanese immigrant workers) of the sugarcane plantation. (*1) However, the dancing venues were not temples, and people danced by setting up lanterns among the houses of the workers. At first, there were no Buddhist temples and even monks in the Japanese camps, so the Japanese immigrants were almost in a “blank” condition regarding religion (*2).


The Buddhist order finally started organized mission in Hawaii in the end of the 19th century after 10 years since the immigration has started in earnest. “Kaikyoshi” (Missionaries approved by the order) were sent to the plantation of each islands, and “Fukyojo” (The place for missionary) and education facilities such as elementary schools managed by the order started to appear.


In 1992, the beginning of the 20th century, the number of Japanese immigrants ran up to 70,000, and at this point, it was the largest ethnic group in Hawaii. As the number of the immigrants increased, the Japanese descendants’ community has been created in each local plantation. The Buddhist temples became the core of the community, such as the venue for religious events, place for education, and a place for social exchange between Japanese and that for community events.

Figure   The Japanese camps and Buddhist temples in the plantation


写真  製糖所=sugar mill アイエア本願寺=Aiea Hongwanji 労働者住宅群=complex of worker’s houses 耕地=farm land 日本人小学校=Japanese elementary school


figure (left) Japanese camp of Aiea Plantation in Oahu Island (around 1902)

figure (right) An outline (image) of the camp (around 1914)


The figures above were drew up referring to the figures included in “Zusetsu Hawaii Nihonjinshi 1885-1924” (The faculty of anthropology of B.P. Bishop Museum/Hawaii Japanese Center)


The figures above show the look of the sugarcane plantation in Aiea, Oahu Island and its Japanese camp. It vividly shows the atmosphere of the large scale plantation and the Japanese camp in the beginning of the 20th century.


In the figure left, a magnificent big roof of the temple (Aiea Hongwanji) can be seen in the center of the Japanese camp. A U.S. flag is fluttering, and a lot of people are gathering, so maybe some kind of an event is being held. The figure right is the aspect of approximately 10 years after, and in this figure, Japanese elementary school annex to the temple is clearly described, and we can see that the education to the second generation was active.     


The Buddhist temples were financially pressed because they relied on the donations from the immigrant congregations who themselves were struggling to make a living. However, when the managers of the plantations realized that Buddhism could be the “stabilizer” (eventually the advantage for the management) for the immigrant workers, they cooperated to the Buddhist order positively such as giving enormous assistance, providing land for the temples’ sites. This became a factor for the rapid diffusion and growth of the Buddhist temples (*3, *4).


After entering the 20th century, the Japanese immigrants gradually shifted the emphasis of the life strategy from “working away from home” to “settlement”. In these circumstances, the Buddhist temples established the position literally as the “center” of the Japanese immigrants’ community in the respect of space and function. It can be thought that thus, it made up the condition to become the venue of Bon Dance


The beginning of Bon Dance in the temples


In the beginning of the 20th century, when the Buddhism in Hawaii was rising, the number of the temples was increasing dramatically.


In the main Japanese camps (habitation) in each islands, Buddhist temples and related facilities of each denomination, mainly the largest denomination Honpa Hongwanji start to appear. The total number of Fukyojo (the place for missionary) of Honpa Hongwanji was 33 in all of the Hawaii Islands in 1916, and the foundation of the denomination that continues to this day was established (*5).


It is in this period that the temples appear as the venue of Bon Dances.

Bon Dances gradually started to get attention after the 20th century, due to the increase of the Japanese immigrants as its background. Bon Dances were held not only inside the plantation, but parks and cemeteries.


Ms. Yukari Nakahara says that the Bon Dance that was held in Mantokuji in 1914 by the volunteers of the Paia Plantation in Maui Island was the first time that a Bon Dance was held in the garden of a temple. Also, she points out that from the 1920s to 1930s, schedule arrangements of the Bon Dances between the temples could already be seen (*6).


The growth and spread of the temples in 1910s matched up with the needs of the Japanese immigrants who seek for the venue of Bon Dances, and thus, it can be considered that the temples rapidly established a position as the center of Bon Dances. From this time up to now, the temples have been consistently presiding as the center of Bon Dance in Hawaii.


Almost the same kind of development could be seen with the Okinawan type of Bon Dance which stands in a unique position among the Bon Dances in Hawaii. According to Ms. Naoko Terauchi, the Okinawan type of Bon Dancing started mainly by the community of the people of Okinawa in the plantation, and they gradually started to hold the dances in the temples after 1930s. (*7)


“The community of Japanese descents” connects the temples and the Bon Dance


It was in the summer of 2008 when we first visited the Bon Dance venue in Hawaii. The impressing thing was that when we asked for the people in charge to get the permission to cover, the people in the venue answered in Japanese mixed with English, “Go to the Choba.”


Choba will be “帳場” in Chinese character. In Japan, we still call the reception of the obituary in a funeral “Choba”. Originally, it is a mutual aid organization or function that appears in the occasion of a funeral.


The supporters of the Buddhist temples in Hawaii and the promoters of the Bon Dances actually overlap, but what is interesting is that the people who manage the Bon Dance is not the office of the temple, but the organization of the Japanese descents’ community that originates in Japanese folk society.



Choba is set up in the venue of Bon Dance


The sales of the stalls is also an important source of income


(The pictures above were taken in August 8, 2008, Pearl City, Oahu Island)


Non-alcoholic drinks, snacks, and towels for Bon Dance are sold in the stalls in the venue of Bon Dance. The participants of the Bon Dance are especially delighted in the homemade snacks, and we too tried the Okinawan cookie, Sata andagi, chocolate cookie, hamburger, Kebab, and it was really good. “Mixed plate” and pickles were selling pretty well. In the venue, donations are made by the believers. The names and the amount of money are written on a piece of paper and it is posted in the venue. This is the same with “flowers” in Japan.


Choba manages the sales that come with the Bon Dance, and it allocates it to the temples and the management of the events. Bon Dance is very attractive to the temples because it makes a lot of profits, and the temples and the Bon Dance are strongly connected with each other mediated by Japanese descents’ community.


The future of the temples and the Bon Dance  


The community of Japanese descents is the starting point of both the Buddhist temples and the Bon Dances, and they became deeply connected with each other mediated by the community of Japanese descents.


From these historical circumstances, even now, both the Buddhist temples and the Bon Dances are maintained by the community of the Japanese descents. Although the circumstances are a little bit different, the Buddhist temples have a central position in the community of Japanese descents in other areas, such as California, North America and Brazil, South America. And the notable point is that these temples are the main venue for the Bon Dances.


In the recent years, aging and generation change is getting on in the community of the Japanese descents, so the number of the supporters of the Buddhist temples is rapidly decreasing. Therefore, some people say that the Buddhism and the Buddhist temples in Hawaii have come to a “turning point”. We would like to watch carefully what kind of a history “the Buddhist temples as the venue of the Bon Dances” will move through in the future.


<<Column>> Architectural heritage of the Buddhist temples in Hawaii  


The Buddhist temples in Hawaii have a very diverse and unique architectural form. Many of these temple architectures have been lost due to reconstruction resulting from the changes in the circumstances of the temples, aging of the building, and development. In the recent years, these temple architectures are paid attention to as the witnesses of the cultural history of the Japanese immigrants, and as valuable case examples of the contact of the Eastern and Western cultures. Thus, discussions of conserving these temples are being held frequently.


According to the studies of Ms.Palumbo Minatoishi Lorraine Reiko, there are 4 types of historical Buddhist architectures before the WW 2.


Chart   Types of the Buddhist temple architectures in Hawaii


Period Type Case example
Early times of immigration (1868~1907) Plantation house type Wainaku Jodo shu Kyokaido (Hilo, Hawaii Island)
Japanese design type Early type of Aiea Hongwanji (Aiea, Oahu Island
Middle period of immigration (1908~1924) Fusion with Hawaiian type Pearl City Hongwanji (Pearl City, Oahu Island)
Latter period of immigration (1924~1946) Indian design type Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii (Honolulu, Oahu Island)


(Chart) This chart was drawn up referring to “ハワイにおける”プランテーション住居型”

寺院建築の研究” in 日本建築学会計画系論文集 No.513 (1988.11) written by Ms. Palumbo Minatoishi Lorraine Reiko.


①Plantation house type

 When the missionaries started to propagate Buddhism, a simple architecture called “Plantation house type” which imitated the makeshift barrack houses of the immigrants was the mainstream of the temple architecture. Today, only 7 places including “Wainaku Jodo shu Kyokaido remain as the architectures that retain traces of those days.


②Japanese design type

Even in the early times of immigration, “Japanese design type” of architecture which directly reconstructs the figure of that in Japan could be seen in the large and wealthy plantations. The “Aiea Hongwanji” mentioned above is exactly this type of temple. In fact, there were people who had the art of carpenter, and the temples were built by these people. It is interesting that before long, Japanese carpenters became the leaders of the carpenters in Hawaii.


③Fusion with Hawaiian type

In the beginning of the 20th century, the architectural style of the Buddhist temples in Hawaii largely changes with the growth of the Japanese descents’ community. The “Fusion with Hawaiian type” which was born in this period brought in the style of native Hawaiian architecture, and the inner structure had a style of Christian church. This type is notable in the point that it is “the contact of the Eastern and Western culture”. The temple that we visited, the “Pearl City Hongwanji” was exactly the typical type of this case example.


④Indian design type

After the “Settlement period”, the Hawaiian Buddhism held out against the criticism from the Christian church which represents the white culture, and worked out a unique “Indian design type” which advocates the religious culture of Buddhism that is older than Christianity. Indian, Islamic, Rome, Greek, European type of design is mixed at random in it. “Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii”, which stands overwhelmingly in the urban Honolulu, is this type.

 In fact, Nishi-Hongwanji (Honpa Hongwanji) in Japan before the WW 2 is well known for its acrobatic architectural style, and Kyoto Nishi-Hongwanji and Tokyo Tsukiji-Hongwanji is famous for their “Indian” style. We imagine that these free-wheeling architectural views of Nishi-Hongwanji have somewhere influenced the temple architecture in Hawaii.


After WW 2, when the modern church type and modern architecture type of style made an appearance, the traditional architectural style gradually lost attention of the people. However, if we look carefully, we can find these temple architecture among the streets of Hawaii.


Laying the basis in the culture of Japanese descents’ community, the Buddhist temples in Hawaii with various architectural styles mixed in them are a place exactly suitable for a venue of Bon Dance. Why don’t you pay attention to the architecture of the temples and enjoy when you visit the Bon Dances in Hawaii?




Pearl City Hongwanji is the typical example of the “Fusion with Hawaiian type”. The front yard has a Hawaiian looking. (August 8, 2008, Pearl City, Oahu Island)


Shingon Sect Mission of Hawaii is so magnificent. Would it be “Japanese design type”?

(August 8, 2008, Ala Moana, Oahu Island)


This one is a modern architecture, Hilo Higashi-Hongwanji


It looks like a Christian church, but it is Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin. Please pay attention to the statute of Shinran Shonin in the left corner.


(Both pictures were took in August 9, 2008 in the outskirts of Hilo, Hawaii Island.)


*1 Please refer to the background material 1.

*2 Please refer to the background material 2.

*3 Please refer to the background material 5.

*4 Please refer to the background material 2.

*5 Please refer to the background material 4.

*6 Please refer to the background material 1.

*7 Please refer to the background material 6.


<<Background materials>>

1.”ハワイ日系人のボン・ダンスの変遷” written by Yukari Nakahara, (included in “民俗音楽学の課題と方法” written and edited by Nobuo Mizuno and published by 世界思想社, 2002)


2.”20世紀初頭のハワイにおける仏教開教と文化変容 (included in “交錯する国家・民族・宗教” 龍谷大学社会科学研究所叢書第45巻, edited by Muneyoshi Togami, 2001)


  1. “図説ハワイ日本人史 1885-1924” (The faculty of anthropology of B.P. Bishop Museum/Hawaii Japanese Center, 1985)

4.”新世界の日本宗教” written by Nakamaki Hirochika, published by 平凡社, 1986.

5.”Pau Hana” written by Ronald Takaki, published by 刀水書房, 1985

6.”ハワイの沖縄系”盆踊り””, 沖縄文化第36巻第1号, 2000.

  1. “ハワイにおける”プランテーション住居型”寺院建築の研究” included in 日本建築学会計画系論文集 No.513 (1988.11) written by Ms. Palumbo Minatoishi Lorraine Reiko.

8.”Hawai’i temples often unnoticed, slowly decay”, an article in the Honolulu Advertiser on September 12, 2005

9.”Temples in ‘aina”, an article in the Honolulu Advertiser on August 26, 2005

10.”The Japanese Bon Dance in Hawaii” written by Van Zile, Judy, published by Press Pacifica, 1982

11.”Historical Geography of Japanese immigrants in Hawaii” written by Kojiro Iida, published by ナカニシヤ出版, 2003

12.”境界の民族誌”written by Satoshi Mori, published by 明石書店, 2008

“日本の移民研究 動向と文献目録Ⅱ” edited by 移民研究会, published by 明石書店, 2008