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“Obon Festivals: Remembering and Celebrating Family Ties”photo

In 1868, the first Japanese arrivals to Hawai’i were recruited as contract sugar cane workers.  Misunderstandings caused Japan to impose an immigration ban for nearly 2 decades and it wasn’t until 1885 when Hawaii’s King Kalakaua, the first king to ever circumnavigate the globe, met with the Emperor Meiji of Japan that the ban was lifted. By 1965, Ethnic Japanese comprised nearly one-fifth of Hawaii’s population.

The Japanese brought many distinctive traditions and customs that continue today, including the Obon festivals held throughout the island of Maui. 

The Obon season is a Buddhist tradition of honoring family ancestors, who return from the spirit world to visit with family.  Held at hongwanji or Japanese Temples, both residents and visitors of all nationalities and religions are invited to celebrate and participate.  

The festival is a cultural experience with food booths, activities, taiko drums and the bon dance  around the yagura, a high wooden stage for the performers.  Participants from children to seniors wear colorful kimono and yukata (summer kimono) and geta (wooden clogs) and accessorize with fans, head bands and special towels.    

When visiting Maui between June and August, take the time to visit one of the Obon festivals.    You’ll see that you can easily mimic and join in the rhythmic Obon dance no matter how you are dressed.  

On July 6, 2014, the Lahaina Jodo Mission commemorates with a floating lantern festival, symbolizing a loved one’s return to the spirit world – until next year…  Also visit the memorial at Kepaniwai Park in Wailuku which commemorates the first Japanese arrivals. 


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