Each year, on Memorial Day, the Buddhist order of Shinnyo-en holds a Lantern Floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach park. The Toro Nagashi, “lantern offerings on water,” ceremony is a Buddhist rite to pay respect to ancestors and offer comfort to spirits of the deceased. Candle-lit lanterns carry prayers for those who have sacrificed their lives in war, for victims of water-related accidents, natural disasters, famine and disease, as well as loved ones who have passed away. The Shinnyo-en Buddhist order established the first Lantern Floating Hawai‘i in 1999. Shinnyo-en Hawai‘i and their Nā Lei Aloha Foundation make over 3,000 lanterns available for people to write messages in honor of loved ones.
Sugar + Shake lost a very dear friend last year. We had accompanied him to a previous Lantern Floating where he had offered a lantern in memory of his mother, so his family and we wanted to float one for him this year. Thanks to some very wonderful people at the Nā Lei Aloha Foundation and Stryker Weiner Communications, we were able to do so. We were also invited to attend the private Water Consolatory service, which is held a couple days prior to the Lantern Floating for the members of Shinnyo-en. This was a great privilege and we are truly honored we were invited to attend.
The service is held at the Shinnyo-en Hawai‘i temple and is officiated by Her Holiness Keishu Shinso Ito, the head of the Shinnyo-en order. Photos were not permitted during the service, and we did not enter the upper part of the temple, but we got to sit in the part of the temple where the parent lanterns were displayed, and were permitted to take photos after the service. Her Holiness came to this part of the temple for the second half of the service to offer a sermon and pay respects before the lanterns. Each of the parent lanterns has prayers dedicated to spirits worldwide; one lantern is specifically for those connected to Hawai‘i.
The Lantern Floating Hawai‘i event is huge; tens of thousands (they estimated 40,000 for this year) attend each year. Shinnyo-en Hawai‘i and Nā Lei Aloha Foundation make it a free public event, and anyone, regardless of religious belief, is able to request a lantern. (You just have to stand in line to get one—there are only about 3,000, and of, course, tens of thousands of people…so the math is pretty obvious; the line starts early. Bringing your own is highly discouraged, as these things carry open flames and they’re specially designed to prevent catching on fire, and also so they do catch on nets strung out at the mouth of the bay to prevent them from drifting out to sea. The prayer papers are removed and properly disposed of, and the frames are kept for re-use.) I saw a lot of people commenting online on media stories about the event that they think Shinnyo-en should charge for lanterns and make more so everyone can have one. Personally, I think that sort of diminishes the concept.
At around 6pm, they start an entertainment program (the event is also televised) with wonderful musicians and dancers. This year, the fantastic Raiatea Helm and The Brothers Cazimero performed. Because of all the television cameras and official photographers running around, even on the media platform, we couldn’t get clear angles a lot of the time. I managed to get some good shots of the taiko drummers and dancers, though.
Chanters Kaumakaiwa Kanaka‘ole and Pualani Kanahele offered Hawaiian chants to begin the formal portion of the ceremony.
I also managed a few photos of Her Holiness Keishu Shinso Ito, the spiritual head of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order, the Light of Harmony and part of the Buddhist rites. You can see additional photos from the day in the full gallery.
In memory of all those we love who have passed on. May we all find peace and harmony in this life and beyond.
Tammy CarderFebruary 9, 2013 10:35 am
i lived in Hawaii for three years and never knew about the lattern festival. wished i had would have attended. sounds like it was a beautiful ceremony. i loved the hawaiian culture and folklure. I love Hawaii to boot, it’s a beautiful place to live would love to go back and i will.