Every Memorial Day, thousands of people gather on the shores of Oahu for the annual Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii, a ceremony symbolizing collective remembrance for those who have gone before us.
Hawaii is a beautiful place and one aspect that makes the Hawaiian Islands so special is the tradition. One such tradition is the annual Memorial Day Lantern Floating Hawaii. Held each year on the south shore of Oahu, more than 50,000 people wade slowly into the water at sunset to launch lanterns that memorialize people who have passed.
“Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii is a ceremony where all can come together for a personal and collective moment of remembrance, reflection, and offering gratitude to those who have gone before us. It is a chance to be surrounded by the love, understanding, and support of others – even strangers. We are strengthened as a community as we reach out to support others and build understanding of our common values and experiences.” [source]
Memorial Day Lantern Floating In Hawaii
It’s a highlight for us every year to attend, though we’ve never actually floated our own lanterns, we’ve thoroughly enjoyed being shoulder to shoulder with people from across the island for the beautiful ceremony.
“With the wish of creating cultural harmony and understanding, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, officiated the inaugural Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony on Memorial Day, 1999. For the first three years, the event was held at Ke’ehi Lagoon on the south shore of O’ahu. In 2002, the ceremony was moved a few miles down the coast to Ala Moana Beach where it has been observed every year since.” [source]
It starts well before sun down and people sit at Ala Moana Beach Park all day to get a good spot for the lantern launch. Lanterns (you register in advance to get an approved lantern) are decorated with messages of love, hope, and honor. Some have photos, while others include leis, but all are collected by boats in the cove and recycled year after year.
We’ve always gone right around 4PM and still managed a good spot. Pro tip: Park at Ala Moana Mall and walk across the street, because parking at the beach is going to be way too crowded. The ceremony consists of twelve parts and features both Japanese and Hawaiian music.
It’s such a moving experience and I highly recommend attending. I love it so much, I wrote all about this beautiful tradition for Legacy Magazine!
Obviously, the lantern launch looks different this year and honestly I’m really sad about it. The entire ceremony start to finish is so moving and I’ll definitely be streaming it online through Hawaii News Now. I’m hopeful that by 2021, this incredible event can be held in-person again.
These photos were taken last year when my parents were visiting. If anyone is interested in a little bit of a visual diary of how the event goes, feel free to scroll through, and if your travels bring you to Oahu in the future, this is definitely an event to bookmark.