POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 31, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 09:26 p.m. HST, May 31, 2011
Alan Sasaki has watched the Memorial Day Lantern Floating ceremony plenty of times on television, but teared up when he went to Magic Island in person on Monday to write a message to his deceased parents.
"It was a real struggle for them to send me to college," Sasaki said through tears. "They did so much for me."
The organizers of Lantern Floating Hawaii produced an extra 1,000 lanterns — for a total of 3,000 — for the 13th annual ceremony to keep up with increasing demand.
An estimated 40,000 people lined the shores of Magic Island and Ala Moana Beach Park as Her Holiness Keishu Shinso Ito, the head of Shinnyo-en Buddhism, launched the first lantern dedicated to the victims of March's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in Japan.
There were songs, hula and a fusion of a traditional Buddhist chant and Western choral harmony.
Beyond the public performances, however, were individual moments of grief and remembrance.
Nove Te'i of Salt Lake struggled to compose a message to his brother, Hope "Ckret" Te'i, who died of a stroke at age 33 on March 29.
Te'i tattooed his brother's name on his left forearm but had a more difficult time writing a message on his lantern, which also was meant to honor Nove's father, a sister and two other brothers.
"I'm still trying to get used to him being gone," Nove said about his brother Hope.
Robert Vartanian of Waikiki launched a lantern in memory of his grandfather and cousin, who both died on Memorial Day 1999.
Vartanian's message read in part, "Hopefully, we'll all see each other again."
"I want to show respect," Vartanian said, "and show that I'm still thinking of them."
Antonio and Rumi Coyle of Waialua were married on March 5, and then Rumi returned home to Japan just before the killer quake and tsunami hit.
On her lantern, Rumi Coyle wrote in Japanese, "For everyone that was lost in that devastation, my regards to your family."
Her message was just one of thousands that bobbed along the waters off Ala Moana Beach Park as the sun set.
And it was a sight that Sasaki believes no one should miss.
At the age of 69, Sasaki, who lives in Mililani, said he believes that people in Hawaii should no longer be content to watch the lantern floating ceremony at home.
"It's nothing like being here in person," he said.
The event was first held in 1999 at Keehi Lagoon and moved to Ala Moana in 2002 as a combined observance of the upcoming obon season and Memorial Day. In July or August, Buddhists welcome the spirits of deceased loved ones and ancestors with bon dances and other obon traditions.
The ceremony is sponsored by Shinnyo-en Hawaii, a Buddhist temple in Moiliili.