It was a bit over a year ago that my blogging buddy Donna got my interest in bon dance reignited. One of the things that Donna said when we were at one of the dances–which can be thought of not just as a religious experience or a cultural dance, but a festival with food concessions and bazaar/craft sale booths–was that it was a “cheap night out.” She’s right!

For those of you who don’t know what a bon dance is, think Karate Kid II. Given the large Japanese and Okinawan population in Hawai’i, the bon dance has become an important cultural event in the island state. The summer is bon dance season, and throughout the islands during the months of June, July, and August, there are events virtually every weekend. It can make a fun event for those who wish to know more about the religious aspects of the bon dance, to experience more about Japanese and Okinawan culture, or to hang out at a fun family event. It tends to be a weekend night event, so it’s held at a time when many would be going out on fancy dinners or movies.

Having fun at the bon dance

Photo courtesy of the fabulous Donna of and

The bon dance can be an extremely frugal event. For the festivals on island, parking has always been free (although it is sometimes difficult to find); there’s never been a charge to attend; the food quality varies, but it’s certainly less than buying food at a movie theater and you’re more than welcome to bring your own cooler. If you choose to buy a towel, donate money to the temple, or buy crafts or plants or whatever they have to sell, that’s totally up to you. The temple mostly wants you to come out and have fun!

And regarding the actual frugal numbers… this past week I went to the first bon dance of the season with my buddies in the Dancing Fools bon dance posse. Besides the cost of driving there, I spent a total of $5 on dinner for the night and not another cent. I was fortunate in that one of the posse passed out some delicious mochi that night. This was not atypical; I’ve often spent zero aside from the cost of transportation, and $5 is well below the price of your typical movie ticket!

I realize that this exact event may not be happening in your neck of the woods, but it’s quite possible there would be other events that are similar in origin somewhere near you. Perhaps an event run by a church or synagogue or an association for a certain ethnic group? Or maybe amateur theater or museum openings? There might be great, low cost, family friendly outings near you. Let us hear about them!

6 Responses to “Frugality in Practice: A Cultural Activity that’s Frugal”

  1. [...] Suenaga joins us with Frugality in Practice: A Cultural Activity that’s Frugal posted at Uncommon Cents.  I never thought about it but I suppose you’re right, Ryan.  I [...]

  2. Aneleon 30 Jun 2008 at 5:37 am

    I have always wanted to go to a bon dance! Nice to know it’s inexpensive as well to make a night of it!

  3. skeeton 30 Jun 2008 at 9:37 pm

    That does it! This will be the year I go to my first bon dance! Mahalo for th ereminder that I’ve always wanted to go.

    Frugal entertainment in Honolulu? Besides festivals almost every weekend during the summer months, I love Kumu Kahua Theatre. More than a movie, but it’s a community theatre so the tickets are cheap – I think it’s $16.00 per person these days. Plays about life in Hawaii – a wonderful way to spend an evening!

  4. Evelynon 02 Jul 2008 at 8:06 pm

    The gorgeous colors of these events are amazing just by themselves! The lanterns, the kimonos, the musical accompaniment — it’s just a treat for anyone who is lucky enough to stumble on to one. It’s always fun when someone shares the happenings of one of these events! Thanks, Ryan. :)

  5. A Cultural Manifestationon 15 Jul 2008 at 9:02 am

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