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Thousands float lanterns at Ala Moana Beach Park

By Michael Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 1:54 a.m. HST, May 28, 2013

Special Section: 15th Annual Lantern Floating Hawaii

Tens of thousands of residents and visitors gathered at Ala Moana Beach Park this evening to remember loved ones lost, and pray for a peaceful future as part of the 15th annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony.

Presented under the theme, “Many Rivers, One Ocean” — a nod to the nondenominational nature of the event, the evening featured Hawaiian chant, taiko drums, and Japanese harmony and purification ceremonies.

The highlight was the release of 5,000 lighted lanterns, each personalized with messages to friends and family of the participants.

“It’s awesome to be a part of this,” said 53-year-old Rudy Miguel of Kapahulu. “There are people from all over, but we’re all here for the same thing. We’ve all lost loved ones. We share common feelings.”

The Japanese Buddhist sect Shinnyo-en organizes the ceremony to remember loved ones who have passed.

In Japan, the centuries-old tradition is generally observed in July or August to coincide with obon, the season when ancestors are honored. In Hawaii, Shinnyo-en holds a ceremony on Memorial Day to help it gain wider public acceptance.

Some participants say the ritual helps them cope with loss, as though physically setting lanterns afloat enables them to spiritually let go of someone they're mourning.

Afterwards, the lanterns are collected and restored for future use.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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