Memorial Day and Lantern Floating – Embracing Multiculturalism

by Sovidias

Multiculturalism does not necessarily come to ones mind when thinking of Memorial Day. In Hawaii though, things are sometimes a little bit different.

And I mean different in a positive way. Its diversity, which results from its history and population characteristics, enriches many aspects of life, and attitudes and thoughts sometimes need to be adjusted. According to 2010 data from the US Census Bureau, the racial demographics of the five largest groups look as follows:
Asian 38.6%, White 24.7%, Two races or more 23.6%, White, not Hispanic 22.7%, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 10%


The most represented group in the state of Hawaii is Asian, and they established a meaningful and beautiful ceremony on Memorial Day - Toro Nagashi, or Lantern Floating. It indicates the end of Obon, the Japanese Festival of Lanterns. During this ancient festival, the souls of deceased relatives and friends are said to come to visit their families. On the last day, they are being sent back to their spirit world with the guide of candle lit lanterns. The first Lantern Floating in Honolulu took place in 1999 and has since then become a huge attraction of crowds having steadily grown to about 40000 expected spectators this year. It has its origin in Buddhism, more precise the Shinnyo-en order, which states ‘Dialogue across religious and cultural traditions’ as a core value. So no wonder, the event is a gathering of people from all sorts of origins, cultures and beliefs, commemorating the ones who passed away. Names of the lost loved ones and messages to them are written on paper lanterns, attached to a bamboo frame. Candles are lit inside, symbolizing their souls. Regardless of human differences, visitors and residents come together to honor those who have died. At dusk, around 3000 lanterns are being released into the Pacific Ocean, next to Magic Island.

Other Festivals

On the Island of Hawaii, at famous Punalu’u Black Sands Beach Park, the first Ka`u Community Floating Lantern Ceremony took place in November 2011. The ceremonies are celebrated all over the world, like the NYC Japanese Lantern Floating Ceremony on September 11, 2011 in Manhattan to remember the victims of the 9/11 attack, where Lanterns drift along the Hudson River. In Hannibal, MO, the Mississippi River carried 200 lanterns during the fourth Memorial Lantern Float Service. The Portland Japanese Garden, OR, is hosting the annual Spirit Festival in August.

In remembrance of the victims of the 1945 Atomic bomb in Hiroshima, the annual Hiroshima Lantern Floating Memorial Peace ceremony takes place each year. Lanterns are released into the Motoyasu River in the spirit of world peace. In Kanazawa, Japan, the ceremony takes place in the course of the annual Hyakumangoku Festival, where silk textile lanterns are being set afloat on the Asano-Gawa River. At Lake Shinji, in Matsue, Japan, the spirits of the ancestors are sent off in lanterns made out of colorful paper.

2006 Lantern Floating
Waiting for the sunset
Waiting for the sunset
Lanterns being sent off
Lanterns being sent off
Lanterns drift off
Lanterns drift off
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Updated: 05/27/2012, Sovidias
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