The Honokaʻa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple invites the community to join its 114th annual Memorial Service on July 15, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. in the Social Hall, followed by Bon Dance at 7 p.m. Anyone of any faith is encouraged to remember and honor loved ones who have passed away in the last twelve months.

A simple and healing ceremony, open to all, the service not only pays tribute to the departed, but expresses gratitude to them and all ancestors in an uplifting way, often referred to as a “gathering of joy.” During the Memorial Service, names of those who passed away in the preceding year are read aloud, as families and friends step forward to place incense as a gesture of appreciation for their life.

“I like to think of the Memorial Service as a way, not only to remember loved ones, but as a way to help lift some of the burden of sorrow, even a little bit,” said Miles Okumura of Honokaʻa Hongwanji. “Everyone experiences loss. In fact, the Buddha tells a parable about that. Like Jesus did, he uses the metaphor of a mustard seed to illustrate it.”


“According to the story, a woman named Kisa Gotami lost her only son,” Okumura continues. “In her grief she came to the Buddha and pleaded to resurrect him. The Buddha told her to bring him mustard seeds from any home that had never been touched by death, and he would make medicine for the boy. Naturally, she was unable to find such a home.”


“With this experience, Kisa was able to learn, and be comforted in the fact that, all human beings are touched by death. There is no way to avoid that truth,” says Okumura. “And at that point, she was able to release and bury her son, and to find peace of mind. I think, symbolically, that is what we are trying to offer people who have lost loved ones this year.”

As the service concludes, everyone is welcome to stay, enjoy and join in the dancing, music, food and celebration. A traditional Buddhist style of folk dancing, Bon Odori (Bon Dance) is accompanied by lively Taiko drums and music, led by dance groups in colorful happi coats to represent different temples. Young and old participate, whether they are beginners or lifelong dancers.

Bon Dance came to Hawaii in the late 19th Century with the waves of Japanese sugar cane plantation laborers. Services were first held in temporary temple sites or private homes, until 1905 when the Hamakua Hongwanji Buddhist temple building was dedicated to serve Kukaiau, Paʻauilo, Honokaʻa and surrounding communities. In 1939, the Hongwanji members purchased the temple grounds from the owner, a Mr. Sheaffer of Honokaʻa Sugar Co. At the time, Rev. Giko Tsuge was resident minister, a post he held for 25 years, bridging time spent in an internment camp during World War II.

Today’s Bon Dance is an energetic celebration, enjoyed by families who often plan a reuinion or special visit to remember loved ones together.

For the Memorial Service on July 15, names may be submitted in advance by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or text 808-640-4602. During the Memorial Service, when the person’s name is called, anyone may step forward with friends and family to offer a small amount of incense (provided), with aloha. Participants do not have to be a temple member or a Buddhist to participate, and even without advance arrangements, anyone can honor loved ones by submitting a name just prior to the beginning of the ceremony. Admission is free, and all are welcome.