The Floating Lantern Ceremony: Tōrō nagashi

Tōrō nagashi

When my husband and I visited Maui, Hawaii for our honeymoon, we were so mesmerized by the beauty of the people, as much as we were of the island. There are many cultural flavors integrated in the islands of Hawaii, particularly from Asian and Polynesian influences. There is a traditional ceremony I wanted to witness while we were there, but it was not being celebrated during that time. No it was not a luau, but a Tōrō nagashi or Floating Lantern Ceremony. Hearing about this ceremony made me curious to learn more about its origin.

Tōrō nagashi is a Japanese ceremony where participants place paper lanterns called “chōchin” on a river and watch them float atop the soft ripples of the water. Tōrō is another word for lantern and nagashi means “to cruise or flow.” This ceremony is primarily celebrated on the last evening of the Bon Festival based on the belief that these lanterns guide the spirits of the departed back to the after world. The Bon Festival takes place on July 13-16 or August 13-16, depending on the calendar you go by. White lanterns represent those who died within the past year. Names of the dearly departed are written on these lanterns along with messages if preferred.

If you have never seen the tranquil, yet emotional presentation of what a Floating Lantern Ceremony looks like, then check out excerpts in this video.

 

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