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02 | 15th Annual lantern floating hawaii


"One of our volunteers from a halau told me that lantern floating is not a Buddhist thing, it’s not a Japanese thing, it’s not a Hawaiian thing. It’s a human thing.” This Memorial Day the crowds gathering at Ala Moana Beach will not be gazing at the giant, glowing sun sinking into the ocean, but rather at the thousands of tiny lights floating out to it.


he 15th Annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony is set to be the largest one yet with more than 5,000 lanterns bearing the names of the departed and the prayers of those still with us being set afloat from the beach. The ceremony, officiated by the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order, an international Buddhist community, provides a way for all to pay tribute to those who have passed. The event is presented and underwritten by Nā Lei Aloha Foundation. “People have a hard time understanding why we do lantern floating, but for us it is a social contribution, it is a way to give back to the community,” says the Rev. Craig Yamamoto of Shinnyo-en Hawaii. “One of our volunteers from a halau told me that lantern floating is not a Buddhist thing, it’s not a Japanese thing, it’s not a Hawaiian thing. It’s a human thing.” So serious is Shinnyo-en Hawaii about this being a gift to the community that any donations made to the organization on the day of the ceremony are gifted to

the City and County of Honolulu for the beautification of Ala Moana Beach Park. The members of Shinnyo-en do not even get to float their own lantern; instead, they put all their remembrances on a group lantern to leave more open for the public. The event that began so humbly at Ke‘ehi Lagoon in 1999 has swelled in popularity to the point it is streamed live on the Internet and broadcast locally on KGMB. An estimated 40,000 people attended last year’s ceremony, making it one of the largest Memorial Day gatherings in the country. There are no reservations for the lanterns, which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis on the day of the event at the Lantern Request Tent, located just ‘Ewa of the Magic Island parking lot. The tent opens at 10 a.m. Event organizers ask the public to please consider the feelings of others who would like to participate by receiving just one lantern per family or group. For those who don’t plan on floating a lantern but would like their remembrances to be included in the ceremony, several options are available. Through May 19, the public is invited to Shinnyo-en Hawaii to handwrite their remembrances on remembrance forms that will be placed on Collective Remembrance Lanterns and floated from canoes. Remembrance forms will also be available at the Lantern Request Tent on the day of the event, from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Or, they may be submitted online at through midnight before the ceremony day. During the weekends

leading up to the ceremony, Shinnyo-en members and community volunteers have been gathering to construct these lanterns and carefully place each remembrance on them. “We ask our volunteers to please be mindful while handling the lanterns; the lanterns really do hold people’s hearts,” says Charlene Flanter, communications manager and program officer for Nā Lei Aloha Foundation. The ceremony will be officiated by the Head Priest of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, whose father had expressed his wish to hold a lantern floating in Hawaii after his first of many visits to the memorials at Pearl Harbor and Punchbowl. “Lantern Floating Hawaii is based in a Buddhist ritual; however, it is open to everyone, no matter what their belief,” says Flanter. “Her Holiness is collecting everyone’s hearts, prayers and remembrances together.” The theme of the event is “Many Rivers, One Ocean” as the founder of the Shinnyoen Buddhist Order Master Shinjo Ito believed Hawaii was at the perfect crossroads to send out prayers across the globe. His beliefs were well founded as the people of Hawaii have taken his idea and turned it into an important annual tradition and moment of remembrance for those who preceded us. “Lantern floating is a time-honored tradition that pays respect to one’s ancestors and loved ones who have gone before us,” says Roy Ho, executive director of Nā Lei Aloha Foundation. “In Hawaii, we do not say goodbye, we say aloha. Aloha can mean many things, but one of the meanings is ‘see you again.’”

Gathering in Harmony A MESSAGE FROM SHINNYO-EN

emorial Day is just around the corner, and the 15th annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony will soon be held at Ala Moana Beach. At sunset on May 27, local residents and visitors will set more than 5,000 candle-lit lanterns afloat on the water, illuminating the ocean at sunset. These lanterns will carry remembrances and prayers from people from all around the world dedicated to those who have passed. Her Holiness Shinso Ito will officiate at this ceremony, as she has since its inception in 1999. Her Holiness Shinso Ito is Head Priest of Shinnyo-en, a Buddhist community of lay practitioners known for its history of reaching out to others to create harmony amid diversity. When asked why Shinnyo-en holds the lantern floating ceremony in Hawaii each year, Her Holiness Shinso Ito answers with a smile, “We hold it with a wish that all people can feel a connection to those who have passed and develop a heart that cares for others, related or unrelated, friend or foe. We hope that this ceremony kindles a light in your heart, and that you take that light home with you and pass it on to someone else.” The Rev. Craig Yamamoto, a


priest at Shinnyo-en Hawaii, explains that the lantern floating ceremony embodies Shinnyo-en’s philosophy of cultivating warm-heartedness and sharing harmony, and adds his hope that these small activities will become a step toward expanding harmony and peace throughout the world. Japanese lantern floating ceremonies are traditionally held during the summer Obon festival, when families welcome their ancestors to their homes before sending them off again by floating lanterns on streams, rivers or lakes. In Hawaii, Memorial Day was chosen because Her Holiness Shinso Ito felt a deep respect for how Americans set aside a day to honor their fallen servicemen and women, and how the people of Hawaii also see it as a day to place flowers, lei and offerings on the resting places of all their loved ones who have passed. Lantern Floating Hawaii opens with the sounding of the “pū” — the Hawaiian conch shell. A traditional “oli,” or Hawaiian chant, is offered and later in the ceremony, Buddhist chants are sung, set in Western classical choral style. Thus, the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony combines time-honored observances of Hawai‘i, the East and the West with-

out compromising the spirit and intention of any. The ceremony’s history can be traced back to Her Holiness’ first trip to Hawaii in the company of Shinnyoen’s founder, Master Shinjo Ito in 1970. Memories of World War II still lingered, and Master Shinjo Ito and Her Holiness Shinso Ito made a point of visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl. After offering consolatory prayers for the deceased at the two memorials, Master Shinjo Ito said: “I wish to have a lantern floating ceremony for all the deceased, friend and foe alike, here in Hawaii.” Her Holiness Shinso Ito finally had the opportunity to realize Master Shinjo Ito’s wish in 1999, when she conducted the first Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony at Ke’ehi Lagoon. In 2002, the ceremony moved to Ala Moana Beach to accommodate its growing popularity and open the door for all the local people to participate. In recent years, more than 40,000 have gathered on the beach, filling it from end to end, and many more have experienced the ceremony in and outside of Hawaii through live television broadcast and internet streaming. The Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order of lay practitioners has had a local presence in Hawaii since it opened its first temple in Mililani in 1971. The current Shinnyo-en Hawaii temple on Beretania Street was established in 1973, and welcomes visitors at all times.

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Prayers of Peace from across the miles By Don Chapman

“When we act for the sake of others, it gives rise to joy.”

t began with a few followers at a small temple in the front of Master Shinjo Ito’s home in Tachikawa, Japan, south of Tokyo. That was in 1936. Today, the Shinnyo-en lineage of Buddhism he founded has about 1 million members at 140 temples and learning centers throughout Asia, the Mainland U.S., Germany, The Netherlands, Great Britain and South America. The basic teaching is described in the name Shinnyo, meaning “the unchanging and real nature of things,” and en, meaning “a garden,” with its Chinese character denoting “a garden without borders.” Thus, the name Shinnyo-en reflects the Order’s intention of offering places and methods of Buddhist training to all people, without exception. Members are encouraged to actively involve themselves in volunteerism. And


Shinnyo-en was created with a focus on lay ministry, not priests. Shinnyo-en’s international reach began in Hawaii, and led to what will be the 15th annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park on Memorial Day, May 27. It was 1970, and Master Shinjo Ito, founder of the Shinnyo-en lineage of Buddhism, visited the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor and later Punchbowl cemetery. His choices may seem surprising, but a central tenet of Shinnyo-en is bringing together all peoples in peace. “I still vividly remember how he was praying on the Arizona Memorial, and he dedicated a wreath of flowers to the lives lost during that attack,” says his daughter, who succeeded him as head priest of Shinnyo-en, Her Holiness Shinso Ito. “But that was not the only wish he had in his heart. He

also wanted to continue to pray for all the lives lost in natural calamities, and all sorts of conflicts. His wish was that as a spiritual community Shinnyo-en continues to pray together for all the lives that have been lost. So this is what I am doing, step by step, to make this wish of his a reality. “That prayer he had, and I also shared, was invisible. But that prayer in Hawaii, I wanted to give an expression to it. So I was looking for a suitable place. I wanted to do it at the beach, I wanted to do this in Hawaii and spread this prayer throughout the world, in the place where our founder had that prayer.” The result is Honolulu’s annual ceremony, which this year expands from 3,000 to more than 5,000 lanterns. (There were 750 in the first year, held at Keehi Lagoon). In 1973, the second Shinnyo-en temple outside Japan was established in

Honolulu at the corner of Isenberg and Beretania. Today the congregation has around 4,000 members. Her Holiness Shinso Ito has since taken Lantern Floating beyond Hawaii, and on Sept. 21 will officiate the first Lantern Floating in New York City’s Central Park. Last year, she was invited to Kenya, where she officiated at a fire ceremony with tribes that traditionally have been at odds, and often at war. Like the Achala Buddha that is revered in the Shinnyo-en Buddhism and is considered important as a symbol of perseverance and resolve — he holds a sword in one hand to cut away attachment and destructive behaviors — the Kenyan warriors used implements of war in a peaceful ceremony. Months after her visit, the peace remains. And last month Her Holiness Shinso Ito became the first woman priest to officiate a Mahayana Buddhist ceremony at Wat Paknam, a revered Theravada Buddhist temple in Thailand, bringing the two paths together in peace. She also has conducted a service at St. Peter’s

Cathedral in New York City, a block from Ground Zero, and at another service officiated with Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics. “When we act for the sake of others, it gives rise to joy,” Her Holiness says. “Mutual understanding is a result of our efforts to expand the practice of loving kindness and altruism, starting with those around us. I believe that such efforts

will ultimately lead to lasting peace in the world.” In the words of Rev. Minoru Shitara, Shinnyo-en’s director of international affairs department, “Her Holiness wants Shinnyo-en to be known for bringing people together in peace, no matter what their background.” It’s a message that obviously resonates with people around the world.

The Path of A Spiritual Leader By Don Chapman n hindsight, it seems so obvious that Shinso Ito would succeed her father, Master Shinjo Ito, as the Head Priest of the Shinnyoen Buddhist Order. But that is only in hindsight, because it was never her father’s plan. Or her’s. “I have five siblings — two elder sisters, two elder brothers and one younger sister,” says the woman now referred to as Her Holiness, who will lead the 15th annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park on Memorial Day. “We lost those boys at young ages, but even after that I had two elder sisters, so I was thinking I would be supporting them, and I enjoyed that role. Growing


up, I thought I would be supporting them.” But over the years, the sisters “gradually came to their own decisions that they wanted to pursue other interests, so they stopped their Buddhist training, they did not complete the path my father had set out for them. And my father respected their decisions.” She was in her mid-20s when her father broached the subject. “Knowing my personality very well, he did not tell me, ‘You have to be like this, I want you to be like that.’ But he came to me and said, ‘You are very good with people, so I am happy if you can be my successor.’ Even after that, I was not confi-

dent that I could be the kind of spiritual leader he was, but he wanted me to do that.” While Shinjo Ito received his tutoring at Daigo-ji monastery in Kyoto, a Japanese National Treasure and a U.N. World Heritage Site, Her Holiness studied directly under her father. And under her leadership, Her Holiness Shinso Ito has continued her father’s preference for predominantly lay leadership as a way of making Buddhism more accessible to modern people. That includes Honolulu’s Lantern Floating ceremony, which she founded to honor her father, and which she will conduct for the 15th time this year.

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Amaster Tradition Is Born With Shinjo Ito By Chad Pata

When the USS Arizona Memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1962, it was envisioned as a shrine to those brave men who had fallen and a tribute to the American spirit.


ut much like the oil that refuses to remain contained in the fallen battleship’s bowels, the inspirations the memorial generates spreads out across the ocean from the harbor that feeds into it. Such was the case when the founder of the

Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order, Master Shinjo Ito, visited the memorial in 1970. A generation before, his country was dropping bombs on this very waterway; here he was, moved to pray not just for his people, but for all the lives lost in that costliest of wars. “When visiting

Punchbowl and Pearl Harbor, he had a very strong feeling to pray not just for the Japanese, but for all the soldiers who had lost their lives, praying for friend or foe with no distinction,” says Charlene Flanter, communications manager and program officer of Nā Lei Aloha Foundation, the secular, community-building arm of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order in Hawaii. “His wish was to continue that prayer every year into eternity, and the idea of the lantern floating was born out of that idea of carrying that prayer into the future.” There were many more trips to Hawaii over the next

14 years, accompanied by his daughter, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, who was to succeed him as head of Shinnyo-en, to say prayers for the departed. From these prayers grew the idea of observing a Shinnyo-en lantern floating ceremony in the islands. So it was that 37 years to the day after the USS Arizona Memorial was christened that the first lanterns were floated at Ke‘ehi Lagoon, a tribute of 750 lanterns to remember those who had passed and a tradition was born. The choice of performing the floating on this American holiday rather than in the

late summer as is Japanese tradition, was no accident. “We chose Memorial Day because we thought it would help people in the U.S. to relate to the ceremony better,” says Her Holiness Shinso Ito, in the documentary “Where the Ocean Meets the Sky.” “It’s the day that people express their gratitude to the departed. “Lanterns are imbued with people’s prayers of gratitude and respect for the departed. I think we could say the true intention of holding the ceremony is for those of us who are still alive. Through this we learn to express the same feelings to those who

are around us now.” Unfortunately, Master Shinjo Ito passed in 1989, a full decade before his visions were realized, but his hope that his prayer would continue on into the future has blossomed into not just an important local event, but one that has an impact across the globe as people send in their prayers from Belgium to Brazil. It only seems fitting that what began with a terrible sinking has given birth to a floating, not just of lanterns, but of the human spirit, no matter the participants’ nationalities or beliefs.

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Stories of Sweet Remembrance By Kyle Galdeira

Leading up to the day and while you are watching the lanterns float away, you remember all the big and little things you may know about the people and the things that made them who they are to you.

Regardless of the memories that brought them to Lantern Floating Hawaii, the tens of thousands who gather at Ala Moana Beach on Memorial Day are afforded a special moment through which they can remember, reflect and show gratitude to those who came before.


ill Takasaki Canfield explains that she knew about Lantern Floating Hawaii for years, but got involved in 2007 when students in the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council’s (PAAC) high school program volunteered as part of a Global Action Project, selecting an issue or topic before deciding how they will act in their community to make a difference. “I usually list on different panels of the lantern people to remember internationally, like victims of disasters, nationally or in our state,” says Canfield, the executive director of PAAC. “Personally, it’s there that over the years, I’ve remembered uncles, aunties, friends’ parents, friends from high school, board

members and mentors.” Canfield explains that the experience brings forth both memories of those friends, family and loved ones who have passed on as well as generates a positive outlook for the future. She also notes that the feeling of companionship and knowing that one is not alone in dealing with the loss of a loved one is comforting as cherished memories live on through the floating of lanterns. “Lantern Floating Hawaii invokes a flood of memories of loved ones,” Canfield says. “Leading up to the day and while you are watching the lanterns float away, you remember all the big and little things you may know about the people and the things that

made them who they are to you. There is a sense of gratitude as the memories come. You recall what these people taught, gave, how they loved you, showed kindness and made sacrifices. It’s those memories that will remain a part of you.” Similarly, musician Keola Beamer has also taken part in Lantern Floating Hawaii since 2007 and uses the experience to honor loved ones and kupuna who have journeyed forward. The innovative Hawaiian musician, composer and songwriter fittingly draws comparisons between Lantern Floating Hawaii and one of his melodious musings. “Lantern floating has given me so much that I can’t even properly

express it in words,” Beamer says. “Perhaps music better carries this message. I wrote a song a few years ago about the time I floated a lantern, remembering my sweet mother, Nona Beamer. The song is called ‘Our Time For Letting Go,’ and is a far better tribute to the healing capacity of Lantern Floating Hawaii than any words I could string together.” Beamer says that the lantern floating helps participants move from experiencing grief to remembering loved ones positively. He calls the experience a “sweet gift,” and recalls the aloha in the hearts of those who honor the iconic memories. “In the fullness of our existence, human beings

begin to understand that when we lose someone important to us, we should try and let them go with joy in our heart,” Beamer explains. “I believe this is what they want us to do. As we are still here on this earthly plane, letting them go is hard to do. We grieve and feel an emptiness to the very depths of our being. Lantern Floating presents us with a unique opportunity. As the lantern representing our loved one floats out to sea, we observe that brave little light drifting off into the black velvet of the Pacific. Somehow, we begin to externalize our loss and the quality of our love changes just a little bit, moving from grief to sweet remembrance.”

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dedicated volunteers offer hearts, invaluable service By Rachel Breit


olunteers are crucial in keeping the Lantern Floating Hawaii alight — no small feat for a ceremony with more than 5,000 lanterns this year, up from 750 in 1999. With the significance the ceremony holds for many, volunteers are inspired to take part in the ceremony officiated by Shinnyo-en, either having attended the ceremony themselves or after learning about how it touched a friend or family member. This includes members of the public as well as Shinnyo-en Buddhists. Serving others is a central

practice in Shinnyo Buddhism. Practitioners from around the world come to offer themselves in service through lantern floating. Each year, over 50 youth from Japan engage in a beach clean-up as one of their volunteer efforts. The event would sink if it weren’t for the help of hundreds of volunteers, who help before, during and after the ceremony day. This includes both members of the public as well as Shinnyo-en Buddhists. “We actually have to limit the number of volunteers,” says Roy Ho, executive director of Nā Lei Aloha Foundation,

due to the overwhelming interest of the public. Volunteers perform a variety of activities from assembling lanterns to retrieving them at Ala Moana after the ceremony. Assembling the wooden lanterns is one task. Other assignments volunteers carry out are paddling eight double-hauled canoes out to cast off the wooden lanterns; running the Lantern Request Tent, where individual lanterns are handed out to the community; lighting the lanterns’ candles; and retrieving lanterns, disassembling, cleaning and

storing them. Included in volunteers’ instructions in handling the lanterns is a spiritual message that stems from the ceremony’s roots in Shinnyo-en. An introductory video asks volunteers: “Please quiet your mind and focus your heart as you make these lanterns, as if this were the lantern that you yourself would float.” A purification process takes place before lantern assembly as well. Volunteers must wash their hands, and they have the option of using incense powder for further symbolic cleansing. Tools

or hardware that fall on the floor during assembly must be re-purified. “This is how precious this construction is,” explains 13-year volunteer Howard Takahashi. “People’s hearts are really going into these lanterns.” Charlene Flanter, communications manager and program officer of Nā Lei Aloha Foundation, echoes the same sentiment: “The hundreds of volunteers who help to make this ceremony possible are an invaluable resource not only for their manpower, but for the heart they bring to the activities.”

One such volunteer with her heart in the ceremony is Danielle Moskowitz. She became a volunteer after attending the ceremony in 2008. Like others attending the event, Moskowitz wrote messages to her father on a lantern. “To let the lantern go provided so much personal healing for me,” says Moskowitz. Since then she has attended the ceremony and volunteered each year. After participating in the event, Moskowitz also became a Shinnyo-en Buddhist. “I wanted to get to know more about the people that put it on,” she says.

“We want everyone to find happiness. Always remember happy moments in your life. Then you can take action to help others by sharing that feeling. This act of compassion will expand your heart’s capacity for altruism.” — HER HOLINESS SHINSO ITO

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A foundation built on aloha By Kyle Galdeira

While Lantern Floating Hawaii is recognized as a once-a-year event to provide participants with a moment to remember, reflect upon and honor those who came before, year-round efforts are also being taken to make Hawaii a better place by bringing people together in cooperation and harmony.

s an avenue for the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order to contribute to the Hawaii community, Her Holiness Shinso Ito established Nā Lei Aloha Foundation in 2004. The organization’s name was bestowed by Kūpuna “Aunty” Malia Craver, and it means “many lei of embracement.” The secular, community-building arm of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order strives to encourage harmony in diversity to build caring communities that value and embody the aloha spirit.


In addition to the annual Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony, Nā Lei Aloha Foundation also focuses its efforts on the Diversity Harmony Peace initiative, Bridge of Friendship and providing grants to a wide array of community-building organizations. Diversity Harmony Peace is an effort launched by Nā Lei Aloha Foundation on May 27, 2008 with the goal of helping people understand how a single, small, sincere act can have farreaching effects and how each act reinforces a personal commitment toward

peace on a daily basis. The initiative aims to help members of the community recognize a common desire for living happy, peaceful lives while perceiving, embracing and appreciating the value of diversity. The organization also hosts an annual meeting of community leaders called the Bridge of Friendship. The gathering is designed to give individuals from non-profit organizations, foundations, businesses and local government entities the time and space to build relation-

ships with each other with the ultimate goal of strengthening the community. The Bridge of Friendship, like the Lantern Floating Hawaii ceremony, reflects Nā Lei Aloha’s mission of encouraging harmony in Hawaii’s diverse community, as was the case in 2012, when 180 people representing 140 organizations united around the theme of Diversity Harmony Peace. Through Shinnyo-en, Nā Lei Aloha Foundation provides grants to a host of local organizations. Some of the recipients in 2012

included the American Red Cross, Family Programs Hawai‘i, Family Promise of Hawai‘i, Hawaii Fi-Do, Honolulu Museum of ArtArt To Go, HUGS (Help, Understanding & Group Support), Mālama Learning Center, Waikiki Health Center, Women in Need and Youth Service Hawai‘i. Roy Ho, executive director of Nā Lei Aloha Foundation, expresses the importance of Lantern Floating Hawaii and how the singular event has blossomed into the year-round efforts of the foundation. “Lantern Floating Hawaii

is a ceremony where people remember their ancestors and loved ones by lighting a candle and floating a lantern,” Ho says. “Through this simple act, and selfreflection, each person is able to connect in some way with those they are remembering in a very personal and sublime manner. “Her Holiness Shinso Ito has said that Lantern Floating is a teaching without words, where the past meets the present. Through this ceremony, what was once despair and sadness can be changed to courage and hope for the future.”

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Lantern details Those who wish to float an Individual Lantern should visit the Lantern Request Tent at Ala Moana Beach, starting from 10 a.m. on the day of the event, to obtain a single Individual Lantern per family or group. These lanterns will be distributed on a firstcome, first-served basis. Pens and a quiet area for writing remembrances are provided within the tent.


hose who aren’t able to make the ceremony or choose to not personally float an Individual Lantern may have their remembrances placed onto the original handcrafted wooden-frame Collective Remembrance Lanterns, which will be floated from canoes or from shore by volunteers. Remembrance forms will be available from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Lantern Request Tent. Online submissions are being accepted through Sunday, May 26 at

PARKING Free event parking is available at Hawaii Convention Center from 9 a.m. to midnight. A complimentary shuttle will transport passengers to Ala Moana Beach beginning at 3:30 p.m., then back to the convention center starting from 7:45 p.m.

memorial Day Monday, May 27, 2013 6-7:30 p.m. Ala Moana Beach, Honolulu

15th Annual Lantern Floating Hawaii  

"Many Rivers, One Ocean" 15 years of honoring and rememberting Memorial Day Monday, May 27 2013 Ala Moana Beach Park, Honolulu

15th Annual Lantern Floating Hawaii  

"Many Rivers, One Ocean" 15 years of honoring and rememberting Memorial Day Monday, May 27 2013 Ala Moana Beach Park, Honolulu