Toro nagashi a joyful sendoff

KUKUI‘ULA — There was a special character inscribed on each toro, or Japanese paper lantern, Sunday night at the Kukui‘ula Small Boat Harbor.

Rev. Kosen Ishikawa of the Koloa Jodo Mission said the character is “i-e,” Japanese for house. This character symbolizes the connectivity of humans, he said during the toro nagashi ceremony marking the end of the bon season.

“Everyone supports each other,” Ishikawa said. “Wives support husbands, children support parents, and people support other people, like a big family.”

He said people in Hawai‘i, more specifically, Kaua‘i, were grateful and appreciative of the support shown following the destruction from Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

More recently, Japan suffered destruction and death from an earthquake and tsunami in March. Ishikawa asked people to remember the gratitude Kaua‘i residents felt when receiving aid.

The bon dance at the Koloa Jodo Mission was dedicated to the victims of the Japan disaster.

“We need to support everyone,” Ishikawa said. 

The toro nagashi, loosely translated to mean “floating lanterns,” marks the end of the 0-bon season. The lights from the flickering candles symbolize the souls of those who have departed, according to the Tokyotopia website.

The lanterns are placed on rivers, bays and the sea, being allowed to drift away just as the ancestors return to their graves.

The toro nagashi ceremony for the Kapa‘a Jodo Mission was hosted last Sunday at Kaumuali‘i Park on the Wailua River.

A volunteer from the Koloa Jodo Mission said they’ve been doing the toro nagashi ceremony for more than 30 years, and in all that time, only once, the boat didn’t survive.

“We didn’t caulk it well,” he said. “After that, every single one made it.”

The lead boat is laden with foodstuffs, in belief it provides nourishment for the souls, and is filled with toro symbolizing those who died between the 2010 bon and 2011 bon.

The boat is hooked up to rafts containing toro of others who remember their loved ones by inscribing their names onto individual lanterns.

“People have said they’ve seen the toro flotilla on their way home from work,” Ishikawa said. “We had reports of some toro being found on Ni‘ihau.”

This weekend marked the end of the bon season, culminating with the bon dance at the Kapa‘a Hongwanji Mission and the end of a series of nine bon dances hosted by the Kaua‘i Buddhist Council.

Bon, or the Festival of Ancestors, according to the Tokyotopia website, started with the story of a single Buddhist monk, Mokuren, who had a vision of his mother’s soul being in torment because of the life she led on Earth.

When asked how to help her, the priest told him to perform good deeds within the community to balance her karma so her soul could move on.

Mokuren’s joyful dance following the realization that his efforts paid off is remembered as the bon dance.

Ishikawa said the Koloa Jodo Mission will be hosting a sushi and chicken sale on Sept. 11, with pickup from 10 a.m. to noon at the church located across from the Times Big Save in


“The sale helps the church to be able to host these kind of community events,” Ishikawa said.

Tickets for the chicken or sushi can be purchased by calling the church at 742-6735.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@


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