Festival signals return of deceased to spirit world

KUKUI‘ULA — Drawn to the light as are so many other living things, Kaua‘i visitors disembarking from sunset sailing cruises at Kukuiula Small Boat Harbor here were attracted like bugs to porch lights Sunday to a unique annual island happening.

The after-dark event attracting residents and visitors alike was toro nagashi, literally “floating lanterns,” a ceremony officially signaling the end of the o-bon season during which Buddhists all over the world honor the spirits of deceased ancestors.

While the ceremony can take place any time of year in Japan, it is celebrated here at the end of the summer o-bon season that is marked by bon dances and other festivities, said the Rev. Kosen Ishikawa, minister of the Koloa Jodo Mission.

The event marks the end of the o-bon season, when the spirits of deceased ancestors who have returned for an earthly visit once again rejoin the spirit world.

While the glowing lanterns initially drew crowds to the harbor, it was the ceremony that kept them there, including Ishikawa and the mission choral group chanting sutras as church members prepared to launch the flotilla.

Young and old were honored with the chance to light a toro or two. Each toro represents one loved one returning to the spirit world. Customarily, the rafts are loaded with food items so those returning to the spirit world won’t arrive there hungry.

Hundreds of spectators lined the harbor’s access road to witness the five-raft armada bob slowly out to sea.

Members of the Kapaa Jodo Mission host a toro nagashi ceremony this Sunday, Aug. 24, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Kaumuali‘i Park in Wailua River State Park, on the Kapa‘a side of the river off Kuamoo Road and Kuhio Highway.


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