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Soto Zen Bon Festival
Friday, June 16th, 2023 at 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm
The Soto Zen Bon Festival showcases the best of the Bon Dance culture in Hawaii. The folk art and religious traditions have evolved on Kauai for over five generations in the Japanese American community. Over 500 lanterns (chochin) decorate the temple grounds and the dance ring, making this festival the most colorful and largest on the island. The Bon festival serves to educate not only visitors but other island residents about this unique cultural tradition, including descendants of Japanese ancestry who can deepen their own understanding of their heritage.
This year, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Kauai Soto Zen Temple a grant to support the festival. The NEA recognized the temple’s preservation efforts for our folk traditions here on Kauai and our outreach into the community. Two items were underscored in the grant: (1) a genre of songs that were sung by women working in the sugar canefields of Hawaii, called the hole hole bushi a Hawaiian version of the blues, and (2) the most popular festival food item called the flying saucers, unique to Kauai, that was created at this temple in the 1950s.
A special cultural performance will feature singers performing the hole hole bushi in period costumes with exhibits that translate the verses that the women sang. The “flying saucers” will be in abundance for all guests to experience and taste!
The center stage of the festival is the bon odori, the Japanese folk dancing with lively music while the taiko provides the beat and rhythm of the festival itself. The dancers dance in concentric circles around a raised platform (yagura), dressed in colorful kimonos, yukatas, and happi coats, under a canopy of lanterns.
The two-day evening celebration, takes place on the temple grounds Friday & Saturday evenings from 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm, June 16 & 17. More information will be posted on the temple’s website at kauaisotozen.org
A variety of cultural and historical exhibits tout the temple’s immigrant and sugar plantation heritage. Guests are encouraged to participate in various activities to learn the significance of the festival, a time when ancestral spirits of departed loved ones, return for a joyous reunion with the living, in a time of family gathering, with food, music, song, and dancing.
The Soto Zen Bon Festival brands itself with a festival logo and a theme, “Let’s Bon Dance!” It is a festival for all ages. It is a gathering of joy and a time to return to your hometown, reunite with family and remember the loved ones who have come before you.