COVID-19 stops the music for obon

The local summertime tradition of the bon dance in Japan, with its crowds of people eating chow fun and shave ice and talking story while watching dancers move rhythmically to the beat of the taiko drum, will be missing this year because of COVID-19.

With outdoor gatherings limited to 100 people and social distancing rules still in place, Buddhist temples that hold the obon festivals — traditionally a time to remember ancestors who have passed — say there will be no dancing, no large temple gatherings and no walk-up food sales, which can attract hordes of people waiting in line.

The festivals are also fundraisers for the temples and related organizations, such as judo clubs and Scouting programs.

It’s the same at Makawao Hongwanji, where the Rev. Kerry Kiyohara of Makawao Hongwanji Mission said he cut his cable TV subscription to save money, noting he doesn’t watch TV anyway. Electricity use is also down, thankfully, since there have not been many gatherings at the temple.

With obon canceled, Kiyohara said affiliate organizations, such as the Scouts and the Judo Club, will miss out on the opportunity to raise funds this year, though donations can be made to those groups via makawaohongwanji.org.

But the real hit to the Makawao temple is the loss of its annual garage sale that happens on the Fourth of July weekend along with the annual Makawao Rodeo and parade. Those events have been canceled due to the pandemic.

Kitagawa’s Wailuku temple is also thinking about food sales to coincide with its family services in August.

While there will be no dancing or socializing, temples across Maui will still hold services associated with obon. They are called Hatsubon memorial services and are for families who are marking the first obon since the passing of a loved one. The ceremony has special meaning in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and normally precedes the dancing at temples.

Makawao, Kahului and Wailuku Hongwanji, as well as Kahului, Lahaina and Wailuku Jodo Missions and Paia Mantokuji Soto Zen Mission all plan to have Hatsubon services for families.

Members should check with their temple on times as well as whether services will be livestreamed online or if private in-person services will be available.

Wailuku Hongwanji minister, the Rev. Shinkai Murakami, said he will stagger times at his mission to allow the Hatsubon services to meet social distancing guidelines.