Max Floats His Boat

“I’m not coming out until you promise not to float me.”

Since 1999, an esoteric Buddhist denomination called Shinnyo-en has sponsored a “Lantern Floating” ceremony on Memorial Day to create a moment of reflection and collective compassion and remember those who have passed.

The name “Shinnyo-en” means “a borderless garden of the unchanging and real nature of things,” and its principal doctrine encourages everyone to develop the ability to act with unwavering loving kindness and compassion. That’s a pretty good thing, methinks.

Lantern close upThe original Lantern Floating was a modest affair, held in a lagoon out near Honolulu Airport but grew in popularity and since 2002 it has been held annually at Ala Moana Beach Park, the major regional park adjacent to Waikiki.

How popular is it? About 40,000 people attend the ceremony. Folks stake out their positions on the lawn areas 24 hours in advance and guard their position zealously. Encroach on someone’s territory and the global message of peace can end with a punch to the nose. People are funny that way. But I digress.

These are the big lanterns that contain the global wishes for world peace, health and other good things.

These are the big lanterns that contain the global wishes for world peace, health and other good things.

Over 6,000 lanterns are launched at sunset.

The lanterns are like little boats. Each has a wood and rice paper container on top and the paper provides space for folks to write their individual messages to their loved ones.

The messages are poignant and personal.

Lost lives, lost loves, hopes and dreams for a better future – the messages range from small, heartfelt pleas and stories to giant themes like world peace.

The Lantern Floating ceremony is quite ritualized. It starts with the haunting sounding of the , the Hawaiian conch shell, blown as a call to come together. For some women (and we won’t mention names,) it serves as the last call to visit the ladies’ room.

That's me in the middle. The AJF went to the rest room.

That’s me in the middle. The AJF went to the rest room.

Giant Japanese taiko drums start booming and a Hawaiian chant or “oli” tells participants to ready their hearts for what is to follow. Hula precedes the entry of the lanterns. All this activity takes place on huge stages set up a week or more in advance.

The first lanterns to arrive are big ones that have messages with big themes of peace for victims of war, water-related accidents, natural and man-made disasters, famine and disease.

Her Holiness Shinso Ito, leader of Shinnyo-en in Hawaii.

Her Holiness Shinso Ito, leader of Shinnyo-en in Hawaii.

These lanterns are blessed by Her Holiness Shinso Ito, the leader of Shinnyo-en and, after food offerings and prayer, the candles inside the lanterns are lit and the lanterns are gently launched to float out to sea on the departing tide.

Buddhist chants and a showering of flower petals accompany the launching, then Shinso Ito rings a small bell, signifying it is time to launch the other lanterns.

It’s a silent and very somber moment as people walk to the waters’ edge, bend down and place their personal lantern into the sea.

There is not a dry eye in the park.

Music plays, hula is performed, chants – both Buddhist and Hawaiian – ring out over the crowd as it moves in a slow and dignified push toward the launching beach.

The main stage at Ala Moana Beach park.

The main stage at Ala Moana Beach park.

Soon all 6,000 lanterns twinkle on the gentle inner reef area and then drift offshore.

A small team of assistants ride in boats to keep the lanterns on their path.

Later, they collect the lanterns along the reef and volunteers refurbish them for next year’s ceremony.

The Lantern Floating ceremony is a unique Hawaii affair that is not truly Japanese and not really Hawaiian. It is also an odd but effective mix of the secular and spiritual.

For example, the AJF snorts about the timing of the ceremony and points out that toro nagashi (lantern floating) exists in Japan but occurs during the obon season when the spirits of the dead are said to return to Earth, roughly in August. Many of the rituals associated with the ceremony have little cultural authenticity but are highly effective at emotional manipulation.

At dusk, the sight of 6,000 lanterns is captivating.

At dusk, the sight of 6,000 lanterns is captivating.

I have to point out that neither of us is religious and we’re only marginally spiritual, although I do adore a dark beer.

Nonetheless, while we both recognize the sophisticated marketing and presentation that makes this ceremony so successful, we also recognize that there is something deeper and more meaningful going on there. Without question, the ceremony provides people with a means to express emotions that might otherwise have no outlet.

Max, by the way is Dog-agnostic, (which may be a dyslexia issue.)

For some, Lantern Floating is a way to remember a deceased loved one; for others, a way to send hopes and wishes into the cosmos. Some claim it provides closure for difficult stages of life or enables that final good-bye.

A lantern leaves the shore. Photo credit to Star Bulletin.

A lantern leaves the shore. Photo credit to Star Bulletin.

At the very least, it is a fantastically beautiful affair with the thousands of small flames covering the ocean and the flood of sincere, deeply personal emotions is tangible across the beach park.

For the one night, global compassion and caring seems possible, a better world seems within reach.

33 replies

    • You know how when a lot of people get together in relatively snug quarters there is a certain mood or atmosphere that takes over? You see it at some concerts, for example. Or on the streets when things go bad. Well, there is a certain mood at the Lantern Floating that is hard to pinpoint. It’s not happiness, reverence, or fun and it’s not sadness, grief or somberness. It’s a little of all that but for some reason I sense sincerity and a shared humanity as the mood at these events. Lucky me, my son is flying in today to visit for a couple of days and with the AJF we’ll wander over – the beach park is about 4 long blocks from Casa de Fluffnugget.


      • Buddythemaltesedog say: What a beautiful website, and how nice it is to be living in an area so relaxing. Buddy also, says I hope Maxwell, your’re feeling better after your fall. Remember: Just hang in their, and take your time getting well and you’ll get their. I’m praying for your speedy recovery.


    • Max is currently going through a crisis of confidence. Yesterday he tried to do his usual leap from the ground into the car seat but instead he missed and belly-flopped against the door edge. In addition to great humiliation and shame he lost confidence in his ability to jump, climb stairs or ascend anything. We have been re-enacting scenes from Top Gun ( “Maverick: You don’t have time to think up there. If you think, you’re dead.”) to restore his confidence but so far with mixed results.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I suppose that we can be aware of the manipulation and appreciate that the ceremony helps people despite it…and I do recognise what you say about the mood, the feel, of a crowd. What a pity we can’t seem to translate the feeling you describe into daily life.

    Sorry to hear of Max’s accident…I think you’re right, it will take a time to restore his confidence. Still, in the meantime he has you to help him and given his size there’s no risk of a hernia in lifting him to where he wants to be…and probably lifting him down again…and then up again….

    I speak with feeling having returned home to find two puppies in residence….two month old American Staffordshires in need of a good home….
    Training this pair to a lead is going to be fun…one attempt to pick them up, one under each arm, was enough to tell me that I need to complete this training fast…before they grow any heavier.

    Have a good time with your son.


    • The addition of the new canines deserves a blog entry, or three or four. We want details. And photos. You don’t get by slipping the new family members past this gang with an aside comment.


      • So far the only time they have been still is when sleeping inside the back door among the stuff they have assembled to play with…buckets, floor cloths, brooms….or when sleeping on the balcony at night. So photographs are hard to do….
        I did try asking husband to hold them on their leads to get a pic of them and his feet but he declined on the grounds that he was an old age pensioner and not into dangerous sports…


    • It was embarrassing to watch. A true belly flop followed by furtive doggie glances all around to see who noticed. Bot the AJF and I averted our eyes to give the wee beast some dignity but there was no avoiding the utter shame.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a beautiful ritual! I love the ideas behind it and also the aesthetics of it. I think we need rituals such as these to perhaps connect back with ourselves or to provide some closure over events in our lives. Yeah I am an old hippy at heart!
    We have a thing over here at Xmas where you write the name of a loved one and a message on a star and pin it to a big xmas tree, donating a fee to a charity. I always write my mom a message about how I love and miss her, it makes me happy and sad all at once.
    Thanks for sharing this and btw… Extra hugs to little Max! Poor little dude!


    • It is certainly a pretty event. Just before it commenced I took a look at my credit card statement, started crying and sent it our to sea on a lantern. I hope Chase appreciates the gesture in lieu of an actual payment.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on beyondtheflow and commented:
    Thought you might enjoy this post about Hawaii’s Lantern Floating Ceremony held on Memorial Day. I am looking forward to sharing this with my kids. At the end of term Scout party, they made lanterns and floated them outside the hall, which looked awesome. Their lanterns had scout laws written on them, usually in very cute handwriting.Enjoy! xx Rowena

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Top of JC's Mind and commented:
    My daughter attended this year’s ceremony. The combining/adaptation/re-interpretation of cultural elements doesn’t surprise me as it happens so frequently in Hawai’i. Thanks to Within the K Streets for this post and to Rowena of beyondtheflow, whose reblog brought me here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • All other aspects of the ceremony aside, they are absolute magicians in terms of logistics. From marshaling 47,000 people to distributing and then collecting the lanterns, everything goes smoothly and appears effortless which adds to the appeal of the ceremony.


  5. There’s much to appreciate in this post. Ceremony (or maybe it’s tradition) matters whether it is a bit manipulative or not. I hope there were tons of kids in the gathering gazing out onto the Pacific starry-eyed because this is the stuff of which memories are made. We attended a lantern-lighting thingie in Taiwan where the lanterns were lit and allowed to drift up into the night. Quite magical as I imagine this to have been.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As with most all things Hawaii, family is foremost and there were many children among the official 47,000 attendees. Remember, too, that Hawaii, more than most other places, is multi-generational and holds great respect for ancestors and the aged, too. It was common to witness three generations of folks wading into the water to launch a lantern.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have seen this on T.V. and read about the ceremony, but I had always thought they simply just burn away. To find out they are collected and recycled seems kind of sad. Well glad for recycling but if your prayer is still in there why that seems like Voyeurism into someone inner most thoughts and deeds. Congrats at winning over at Kismets. Over and Easy gave us a laugh.
    Sweet William The Scot


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