Memories of O-bon Past

In Japan, and other places where Japanese culture is strong, this is the time of the O-bon festival — the honouring of the spirits of dead ancestors. At this time it is common for Japanese families travel to relatives’ graves, or to set up household altars so that their spirits may visit them instead.

O-bon is celebrated with a three-day festival and a dance, Bon Odori, to welcome the spirits of the dead. While the style of Bon Odori varies from region to region, it almost always involves a large group of people circling the yagura, a kind of elevated wooden platform where the musicians stand.

Both of my Japanese O-bon experiences were in Tokyo (in 2005 and 2007) where August 15th is the official first day. Hawaii has a whole “Bon Season” that runs from June through August.

Tokyo is generally miserably hot in July and August, but I would happily sweat through another summer there to dance around the yagura and eat festival food once more. Of course, in all the festivities I did tend to forget the sober heart of O-bon — the respect and remembrance of those we have lost. Read another way, however, O-bon reminds me of the joy of being happy, healthy and alive.

 

Photos by author.

 

Azabu-Juban Festival. August 2005.

 

Roppongi Bon, 2007.

 

Wahiawa Bon (O’ahu), 2010.

 

 

Byodo-in Temple, O’ahu

One of the things I loved most about living on O’ahu was the little bits of Japan sprinkled across the island. From the Japanese grocery stores, to O-Bon festivals, mochi balls mixed into shave ice cups and the bilingual signs around Waikiki.

The Byodo-in Temple is an exact replica of a 900-year-old temple in Japan set at the foot of the jagged, at times mist-shrouded, Ko’olau mountain range. The temple was established on June 7, 1968, to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. After chiming the bon-sho — a three-ton brass bell you strike with a wooden log to bring peace and good fortune — you can stroll through the temple, pause at the feet of an 18-foot golden Buddha and wander past ponds with bloated koi and black swans — and maybe a wild peacock or two.

 

All photographs by author.

Mu-Ryang-Sa

I am quite lucky to have local friends on O’ahu, because it means I get to go to places I’d never have known about otherwise.

Mu-Ryang-Sa Buddhist Temple isn’t in any of the guide books that I’ve looked at and it’s quite hidden away–well as much as a brightly-coloured building around 70-foot high can hide. We drove up through Palolo Valley, winding around corners until we could see the roof above the trees. The temple is on a steep hill in a quiet residential area, the residents of which, I later found out, had campaigned to get the temple’s peaked roof lowered by six feet to comply with city planning laws. The temple was previously called Dae Won Sa Temple; it’s new name reflects the result of the rule: Mu-Ryang-Sa means “Broken ridge” in Korean.

Mu-Ryang-Sa was quiet and empty except for us and one lady working there. From her cool air, I think they prefer it that way.

A couple of surly figures greet you upon arrival.
Lanterns hanging inside the temple