On Memorial Day in 1999, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, officiated the inaugural Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu’s south shore. In 2002, the ceremony was moved to the beach at Ala Moana Regional Park, where it has grown into one of the largest remembrance ceremonies in the country. In 2019, about 50,000 people came out to float 7,000 lanterns for their lost loved ones, writing messages of hope and love on the illuminated paper lanterns, which are respectfully collected by volunteers for reuse the following year.
The ceremony brings people together in a beautiful experience that transcends ethnic, cultural and religious boundaries. This year, the name of the ceremony was officially changed to Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii. Shinnyo is a Buddhist term that refers to the pure nature of all things that exists in all of us. As a ceremony of harmony and diversity, the new name encourages people to share their light with others and come together in the spirit of peace and remembrance to support each other.
Here are just a few moments from the 20th annual Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii that took place on Memorial Day 2019.
As sunset approaches on Memorial Day, an estimated 50,000 people gather on the shores of Honolulu, Oahu's Magic Island Lagoon and Ala Moana Beach Park.
In a gathering this size, there is both joy and sorrow. Many attendees make it a family affair, bringing tents and picnics to spend the day at the beach.
Shinnyo Taiko kicks off the ceremony each year, the sound of the drumming bringing people together.
On the shore, the people wait, their lanterns ready, with messages of remembrance and love.
The six large communal lanterns wait on stage. These lanterns carry prayers for victims of war, water-related accidents, natural and manmade disasters, famine and disease.
Kahuna dressed in striking monochrome outfits chant an oli and sound the pu, or Hawaiian conch shell, sanctifying the area and marking the commencement of the main ceremony.
Esteemed Hawaiian performer Ledward Kaapana (right) takes the stage with Jesse Gregorio on bass, singing a song dedicated to his own loved ones.
Her Holiness Shinso Ito, head of Shinnyo Buddhism, takes the stage to offer a blessing on all participants.
The ritual offering of food and water symbolizes the offering of spiritual nourishment to the souls of those being remembered.
As the sun sets, Her Holiness rings a bell to signify that it is time to float the lanterns, and people move into the water.
The messages on the lanterns range from heartfelt letters of gratitude, photos and illustrations to simple statements of faith and hope.
As the lanterns drift out to sea, those shoreside watch, and say goodbye.
The thousands of lanterns create a beautiful, peaceful spectacle, a symbol of courage, hope and love.
The Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony happens each year in Honolulu on Memorial Day. The event welcomes everyone, regardless of religion or creed, and there is no cost to attend, place a remembrance on a lantern or float a lantern. For more information, visit lanternfloatinghawaii.com.