HONOLULU — Due to ongoing concerns brought about by the pandemic, Shinnyo-en Hawaii will once again hold off on its annual lantern floating event at Magic Island. However, the temple will host an in-person, interactive event on temple grounds, May 27-June 5.
“Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii: Space to Heal” is an opportunity for the public to write messages and remembrances of loved ones who have passed and place lanterns in the water. Lighting artist, Hideaki Tsutsui, who created last year’s interactive experience, returns to transform an outdoor venue into a space in which the public can experience comfort and healing, “a hopeful space for participants to be moved from whatever personal or collective turmoil or trauma they may be experiencing to a moment of internal reconciliation and peace,” according to the event website.
Tsutsui will incorporate bridges symbolizing the journey from this world to another that will lead to a water feature where participants can float their lanterns. Lanterns from each evening will be displayed as part of a collective experience of a community overcoming loss while generating hope and a sense of renewal toward the future.
Although time slots for the in-person experience are full, organizers say they are thinking of ways for others to experience the solemnity of this “space to heal.” They also encourage people to return to the website to check for cancellations. The public can also submit messages for loved ones on the event website or via the Shinnyo Lantern Floating app available for iPhone and Android users.
Different countries have their own floating lantern beliefs and practices. In Japan, lantern floating is a part of the Obon season held every summer during which Buddhists welcome their ancestors back home, lighting the way with a paper lantern at the home altar (or Buddhist temple) or lighting a small fire. Families traditionally adorn altars with food and flowers. The bon dance is also held during this time.
At the end of Obon, families release candle-lit lanterns, or toro, usually on rivers, on which ancestors and loved ones are said to return to the spirit world.
Some sources state that the Japanese tradition of toro nagashi, or lantern floating, goes back to 1946, when it was first held to honor and remember the lives that were lost during World War II when the United States bombed parts of Japan. However, it is difficult to say definitively because there are various Buddhist sects that conduct this annual rite and each has its own history of lantern floating.
“The founders of Shinnyo-en held their first lantern floating in 1936,” explained Reverend Craig Yamamoto, community relations liaison of Shinnyo-en Hawaii. “In 1952, it became a large event held at Lake Kasumigaura in Ibaraki Prefecture, then in 1988, it moved to Lake Kawaguchi at the foot of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi Prefecture.
“Hawaii was the first lantern floating ceremony that Shinnyo-en held outside of Japan,” he added. “Since then, others have been held in Okinawa, the UK, Germany, Africa and New York.”
The founder of Shinnyo-en, Shinjo Ito, visited Hawaii in 1970, paying respects to the war fallen at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Puowaina and the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Deeply moved by this experience, he was inspired to conduct a ceremony in Hawaii to pray with equal sincerity for all spirits of those who had lost their lives, regardless of sides of the conflict.
His successor, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, carried out this wish with the first Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii held on Memorial Day 1999.
“Shinnyo-en holds lantern floating ceremonies in many places around the world, but in Hawaii, it is observed on Memorial Day, a day dedicated to honoring those who have lost their lives in service,” said Rev. Yamamoto. “The sincerity of Americans to honor their fallen military on Memorial Day spoke to Her Holiness’ heart.”
First held at Keehi Lagoon for three years, the ceremony moved to the shores of Magic Island at Ala Moana Beach Park in 2002, and was held there annually until the lockdowns in 2020. This will be the third year without the beach ceremony, however, the in-person, interactive experience continues from last year.
Prior to Shinnyo-en Hawaii’s lantern floating ceremony, there were others that many residents and visitors enjoyed each year. The Jodo Mission in Haleiwa conducted their event annually on the North Shore, as did the Tendai sect, holding its lantern floating on the Ala Wai Canal.
Just as previous events brought together many people, so does the Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony — bringing together people from all over the world, all walks of life, from different backgrounds, life experiences, from various ethnic groups, cultures, traditions and religions.
“This ceremony is not only for Buddhists, but for anyone and everyone because we are honoring our loved ones and all who have lived and supported our existence,” explained Rev. Yamamoto. “We come together as one community in one heart to share our light of goodness and remember those who have gone before us.
“There are many conflicts in the world today,” added Rev. Yamamoto. “Each of us may choose to make the world a more harmonious place through prayer, and even more importantly, through tangible positive actions. Our individual and collective efforts can start in Hawaii and ripple out to the world.”
A 30-minute special will air 6:30-7 p.m. HST on Memorial Day, May 30 on KHON2. “Space to Heal: A Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii Special” will stream on the event website, on KHON2.com, Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii’s Facebook page, Instagram and YouTube channel, as well as on KHON2’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.