Tens of thousands gather at Ala Moana for Lantern Floating Hawaii


The 19th annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony has once again brought tens of thousands of people together to honor loved ones who have died.

For many, it’s a chance to find peace and solace amid tragedy on this Memorial Day.

There will be a pre-ceremony performance by Shinnyo Taiko before the ceremony officially begins at 6:30 p.m. It lasts for about an hour.

There were already thousands of people who put up tents and waited in line for a lantern Monday morning. The line for lanterns wrapped around the park with an average wait time of less than an hour.

But even before the lanterns were lit, some already made connections.

“Everyone in line is really sweet. You have nice conversations with people talking about why they are here and why it’s important to them,” said participant David Mulinix.

“There’s different stories, but we all share that similar struggle, similar hope, and that’s the nice part. It still pulls people together,” said Shinnyo-en practitioner Justin Goshi.

That empathy is why Joanna Lands is volunteering for the first time. Lands’ husband passed away seven years ago, and while she lives in Texas, she flies to Hawaii every year to light a lantern.

“I know how I felt the first year and trying to get over the emotions of doing that. Now that it’s my sixth year, I have that feeling of celebration rather than that sadness, so I can give to people that come in teary-eyed and all that, I can empathize with that and I can talk with other people,” said Lands.

For some, there’s an inexplicable peace that washes over them when they release their lanterns into the water.

“My son passed away in 2006 and we’ve been coming since 2008, when we first came,” said participant Mary Jo Kapahu. “It helps us remember that there are other people that are mourning the loss of loved ones and that our loved ones aren’t alone.”

The lantern floating draws a crowd of more than 50,000. This year there are more than 7,000 lanterns, about a thousand more than last year.

“Every year we end up running out of lanterns, and it’s such a wonderful event for people who want to be a part of it that we wanted to even make more available so more people can share in this kind of experience,” said Goshi.

Many say it’s worth being a part of that experience.

“When you are on that beach and you have all these people, that tens of thousands, it is so quiet and everybody is so respectful and have so much love for each other. I wish we could bottle that and sprinkle it around the world,” said Lands.

One of people at the annual lantern floating ceremony was Marissa Brown. Brown lost her husband Army Sgt. 1st class Allan Brown in December. Monday night she floated a lantern in his honor. “It just feels like a moment of release this is the first time I’m actually letting him go and I feel like I’ve done my duty and I’m taking him home.”

Brown was joined by a friend of her late husband, and a fellow soldier, Ryan Brown. He came to the ceremony to join Marisa Brown and her family in floating a lantern with words of remembrance. “He was just a great individual. I think sometimes with Memorial Day we think it’s just a holiday about barbecues going to beach. But it’s individuals like Sergeant Brown is what this day is all about.”

As the night fell thousands of lantern dotted the calm water at Ala Moana Beach park, one of those lanterns belonging to Charlie Casados, who lost his father and little sister in 2011. “I want to live their part in life and they are not here. But there’s a pain deep down inside me that never goes away, and to come to an event like this, it relieves some of the pain.”

Every lantern on the water had a message written on it. Casados shared his tonight. “I’ll keep doing my best out in this world and hopefully one day we can meet again.”

Traffic restrictions

The following traffic changes will be in effect surrounding and at Ala Moana Regional Park:

  • The parking lot at Magic Island will be closed to the public on Monday, May 29, from 4 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • Ala Moana Boulevard (Waikiki-bound), from Piikoi Street to Atkinson Drive, will be designated a “no parking, tow away” zone on Monday, May 29, from 4:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
  • In the event of a gridlock within the park, the Atkinson Drive and Kamakee Street entrances will have limited access into the park and will be monitored by the Honolulu Police Department.
  • At the end of the ceremony (around 7:30 p.m.), the Honolulu Police Department will provide traffic assistance for the public crossing along Ala Moana Boulevard and at the Atkinson Drive intersection.

Click here for more information.

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