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Lantern Floating Ceremony

June 3, 2008

As one of my job interviewers walked me back to my car the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, she told me I ought to check out the floating lantern ceremony held down at Ala Moana Beach. I was thinking to myself (as I do as soon as anyone here tells me any little bit of unknown info), sweet, a dank nug of insider knowledge. Man, I’m half local already.

As we parked our car at the Ala Moana Center Monday evening, I could already see the hordes straggling in from all directions. This was no hidden secret, more like a pilgrimage to Mecca (great metaphor – let’s see how long it takes for this blog to reach the office of Homeland Security). We took our spot among the 30,000 along the beach, purchased our obligatory overpriced snacks and watched the sun dip toward the horizon as the mc’s warmed the crowd with banal platitudes (“Welcome to a truly special evening in paradiiise”).

Leading up to the main event was a program of music. The Americanized taiko kicked things off. I had never heard gongs used in taiko before, and man did they ever MAX out on the gongs, to the ultimate extreme. All the crescendos had their own crescendos. I can already feel myself turning into some kind of wabi-sabi Japan culture snob (you call that fish-rice slop sushi? show me your sushi chef license!), but it just isn’t sumo.

Fortunately, the triumphal rock-concert taiko was followed up by some kind of local Hawaiian singer-poet whose chanted stylings reminded me vaguely of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. He was channeling some kind of dirt-stained, gnarly-rooted earth god from the depths. It was moving to say the least.

And then there was some pleasant and forgettable slack-key island music, a fake priestess with a bad Japanese accent (here I go again) and some more rock concert taiko that morphed into this weird symphony that sounded something like what the brilliant soundtrack of Conan the Barbarian would if it had been composed by Enya. I guess the strangest thing about the music was that it in no way evoked either Japan or Hawaii.

The sun down, it was finally it was time to float some lanterns. The idea is Japanese-Buddhist: a simple yet profound gesture to honor your ancestors and deceased loved ones. And you had everyone, all ethnicities, tourists and locals, wading into the gentle surf and submitting their tidings to the tide.

Lantern Floating Hawaii

Next year I think I’ll just show up for this part.

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