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Master of Ceremonies: Rev. Craig Yamamoto


The Rev. Craig Yamamoto of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist temple orchestrates one of the most elaborate and well-attended Memorial Day events in the nation: the annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony. About 40,000 people send out thousands of candle-lit lanterns to the sea at dusk, in a massive show of reverence for lost loved ones.

Rev. Craig Yamamoto of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist temple.WE, AT THIS TEMPLE, have been doing the lantern-floating ceremony for 15 years. There are other Buddhist sects around the island that do lantern-floating ceremonies, but we also integrate American and Hawaiian elements into the traditional Japanese ceremony.

PRACTITIONERS HERE at the temple, as well as volunteers from the community, help us make all the lanterns. This year, there will be about 6,000 lanterns. That number has been increasing every year, but I think that’s our max. I think that’s all the ocean can hold!

WE HAVE A CATCHMENT LINE in place at the reef at Ala Moana Beach, and volunteers on surfboards who gather all the lanterns after they’ve been floated so they don’t get lost at sea. The lanterns and messages are all brought back to the temple where we conduct a prayer ceremony for them.

THE PLANNING starts in November. And it isn’t just us here at the temple. We have volunteers from all over who help us prepare. It’s a cooperative effort that takes at least a couple of hundred people to pull off.

WHEN THE FOUNDER of the temple (Master Shinjo Ito) came to Hawaii in 1972, he wanted to have a lantern-floating ceremony in Hawaii. When he passed away, his successor, who is also his daughter (Her Holiness Shinso Ito), wanted to make his vision a reality. The first one was at Keehi Lagoon back in 1999. What makes this ceremony different is that she wanted to have it on Memorial Day. Traditionally, lantern floating is done during the obon season in July and August. But she wanted it to be relatable to Americans, too.

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE who come to the Islands just for this event. At least, that’s what they tell us on our website.

WE RECEIVED A STORY from a woman who attended the festival one year, and she was there very early, at 3 or 4 in the morning, to stand in line for her lantern. Her sister had just passed away, so she was there to honor her. She said she was really struck by the atmosphere. Everything was quiet and serene, everyone was so courteous and respectful of each other. She said she wished everything could be like that. Peaceful and calm. If only we could transfer that to her commute into town from the West Side.

WE'VE NEVER once had an alarming incident or any kind of chaos or anything. It rained once. But just at the very beginning, so it was more like a blessing. The weather is always good, which is the biggest surprise.

Did you know? There are two kinds of lanterns: collective remembrance lanterns, which are wooden-framed and refurbished each year, and individual lanterns, which are distributed on the event day, one per family or party.



The Lantern Floating Hawaii 2014 ceremony will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. May 26, at the Magic Island end of Ala Moana Beach Park. More information, as well as a guide to floating a lantern at the ceremony, can be found at lanternfloatinghawaii.com.

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Honolulu Magazine November 2017
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