Lanterns of life

KUKUIULA — This past year has been difficult for Claudia Boesch of Switzerland, who lost her father-in-law in November and her grandmother in July.

Boesch, who is visiting Kauai for the first time with her daughters Lune and Carla, said she went to attend a morning service Sunday at Koloa Jodo Mission but found it was closed because of the toro nagashi or “floating lantern” ceremony planned for that evening.

It was then that Rev. Kosen Ishikawa, the temple’s minister, invited them to be a part of the ceremony and offered her family a special place in it.

That night, a flotilla of five small lanterns or “toro” bearing the names of Capt. Reid Kijiro Nishizuka and Claudia Boesch’s father-in-law, two grandmothers and a great grandmother — was placed in the lead boat that would guide all of the lanterns or “toro” out to sea from the Kukuiula Small Boat Harbor.

“This toro nagashi service is a celebration of life,” Ishikawa said. “Life is precious and people need to cherish it. It is not only for one’s self, but others. We need to work together to make everyone’s life the best it can be.”

The toro nagashi ceremony marks the end of the o-bon season, according to online sources. When translated, “toro” is a word for lantern, while “nagashi” means to cruise or flow.

The Kapaa Jodo Mission celebrated the final o-bon dance of the Kauai Buddhist Council calendar on Saturday, and in keeping with tradition, the toro nagashi was held following the bon festival to help guide the spirits of the departed back to their world.

O-bon is a time, according to Buddhist custom, when people honor the spirits of departed ancestors who return for a reunion with their family members. This celebration has evolved to include homecomings and reunions for family members who live away from their hometowns.

Traditional Japanese, according to online sources, believe that humans come from water so the lanterns represent their bodies returning to the water, or in tradition, the sea.

The toro nagashi has been expanded to commemorate other memorable events such as those killed in the bombing of Hiroshima and on Memorial Day, in Hawaii, to remember departed loved ones.

“This year, we received an email request from Las Vegas,” Ishikawa said. “We have the family of Capt. Reid Kijiro Nishizuka sponsoring a toro in his memory.”

Nishizuka, an Air Force pilot, was killed on April 27 when his MC-12 aircraft crashed near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

The Honolulu-born pilot perished along with Capt. Brandon Cyr of Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Staff Sgt. Daniel Fannin of Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., and Staff Sgt. Richard Dickson of Beale Air Force Base, Calif. where Nishizuka was stationed.

“The island of Kauai has a special place in our hearts,” Ricky Nishizuka, Reid’s father, said in an email. “I worked at the Sheraton Kauai Resort as a systems manager, and my wife, Reid’s stepmother, Norene Nishizuka, is a 1965 graduate of Kauai High School and worked at the Koloa and Lihue branches of the U.S. Postal Service.”

Ricky said Reid’s toro occupied a spot in the lead boat because he was one who passed between the 2012 and 2013 bon.

Ishikawa said he presented two special flowers which symbolize the event — a spray of dendrobium orchid, the plant being given to him by a church member before she died, and the night blooming cereus, a relative of the Dragon Fruit.

“Every year, during the summer, the orchid blooms,” Ishikawa said. “The person who gave me the plant may not be here, but is always in my heart when I see the flowers.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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