Inside Look: Mōili‘ili Summer Fest

When to go, what to do and how to get in to Honolulu's biggest Bon Dance.

Photo: Courtesy Mō‘ili‘ili Summer Fest

Obon dance is in full swing and soon, University Avenue will be right in the center of a big cultural celebration. The 5th Mōili‘ili Summer Fest is this weekend. The event is put on by Kamehameha Schools, Mōili‘ili Hongwanji Mission, Japanese Cultural Center, Mōili‘ili Community Center and more, so it’s big. Think 8,000 people big.

The Summer Fest has actually also gotten even bigger from last year. Now, it includes not only the old Varsity Theater area off of University Avenue, but retail and food vendors will stretch down Coyne Street as well. That’s in addition to an educational tent by Kamehameha Schools, a historic look at the area by the Mōili‘iili Community Center, and, of course, the Bon Dance.

Photo: Courtesy Mō‘ili‘ili Summer Fest

Taiko drumming comes before the Bon Dance starts at 6:30 p.m.

We asked organizers for details on the free kids activities, how to avoid the crowds and how to keep up during the dance.

Our Tips

1 – The busiest time is 6 to 8:30 p.m. Keep in mind, the very popular Bon Dance begins at 6:30 p.m. So, get there when the fest first begins at 5 p.m. to avoid crowds around the activities and longer lines for food, especially andagi. The deep-fried Okinawan donut is often a “must have” for Bon Dance attendees and the andagi line is always the longest one at the Summer Fest. Free parking at UH opens at 4 p.m. and free shuttles to the Fest are available, so you can scope out the area and be ready to go as soon as the event begins.

Photo: Courtesy Mō‘ili‘ili Summer Fest

Tanabata tanzaku(left) and kingyo sukui (right) are some of the free kids activities.

2 – Hit the free hands-on kids activities. The Japanese Cultural Center will offer kids hachimaki (headband) stamping, origami (paper folding), kingyo sukui (a traditional goldfish scooping game) and tanabata tanzaku, where kids write wishes on paper and hang them on bamboo. Younger kids can easily do the hachimaki stamping and write their wishes, with their parents’ help. The goldfish scooping takes a little more skill and is fun for older children. The Cherry Blossom Festival will also have origami, souvenir books and a chance to meet the Cherry Blossom Court. University of Hawai‘i’s School of Earth Science will host interactive science games for older kids, around 10 years and older.

3 – Turn off your cellular data service. This year, there is free wi-fi for the Fest supplied by HDT. Hashtag for the event is #MoiliiliSummerFest.

4 – Head to Coyne Street to eat. Most of the food vendors are there and the added space means there will be more spots to settle in for a bite outside of the busy central section near the Varsity Office Building. There are more than 20 food vendors including Beyond Burgers, Bonfire Pizza, Paul’s Poppers, corn, musubi and more. However, a few such as Kit n Kitchen and Burger King will not be on Coyne Street. 

5 – Plan to dance? Watch the inner ring. The teachers will be dancing closest to the Yagura, the tall tower in the center of the dance. They will all also be wearing the same color, making it easy to identify and follow them. If you’re a first timer, see our guide to Bon Dances with tips from the Japanese Cultural Center.

Photo: Courtesy Mō‘ili‘ili Summer Fest

Mōili‘ili Summer Fest is Saturday, July 2. 5 to 10:30 p.m. at the Varsity Office Building, 1100 University Avenue.