Many Rivers, One Ocean

A sign secured to fencing reads "Memorial Day" and "Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaii 2024: Many Rivers, One Ocean"

This Memorial Day, Minerva president Joy Portella and I had the privilege of attending Shinnyo Lantern Floating Hawaiʻi in Honolulu. The lantern floating event, which draws in upwards of 50,000 in-person attendees, is hosted by Nā Lei Aloha Foundation and our wonderful clients at Shinnyo-en.  

For 25 years, Shinnyo-en has hosted the event on the shores of Ala Moana beach on the island of Oʻahu. It offers longtime attendees and newcomers alike an opportunity to partake in a beautiful ceremony that connects us through one of the most human experiences: loss. 

Minerva has been working with Shinnyo-en since 2021 and I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with the team for the better part of a year. I’ve learned so much from our time together. People and relationships make the world go round, and I am grateful to our friends at Shinnyo-en for presenting our team with so many opportunities to acknowledge this. 

Joy and Caroline on Ala Moana beach before the ceremony. 

This year’s lantern floating theme was “Many Rivers, One Ocean.” The theme emphasizes our humanity—how each of us contributes to a sum greater than our individual parts. Our paths are different and intertwined, united by shared experience. Held in the aftermath of the Lahaina fires in Maui last summer and amid so much hardship across the globe, this overarching message was especially poignant.  

Her Holiness Shinso Ito, the spiritual leader of Shinnyo-en, reminded us that the sentiment of lantern floating is not confined to special occasions. Each of us can bring light into our daily interactions, igniting the goodness that we all possess to see the best in ourselves, each other, and our lost loved ones. 

Inside the assembly tent, thousands of people wrote messages on lanterns in memory of lost loved ones. 

In the hours leading up to the ceremony, the Minerva team spent time in the lantern assembly tent interviewing attendees, volunteers, and performers who would participate in the event. True to theme, the folks we interviewed came from all over the world and for unique reasons. For many, this was their first lantern floating event. Others had been coming to Ala Moana for years to honor those who had passed, traveling from across the globe to float a lantern.  

The prevailing sentiment—the river leading us all back to the ocean—was that loss comes in so many forms yet touches all of us. We grieve our loved ones; we grieve people we have never met. We grieve for the planet, for our neighbors, for the lives we did not lead, and for choices we never had the chance to make. So much of life is learning loss over and over again.   

We grieve because we have something to lose, and while there is a vulnerability that inevitably accompanies this truth, I find a great deal of comfort in it. This year’s event served as a powerful reminder of our shared humanity and our ability to be a little better every day. 

For more highlights from the event, visit Shinnyo-en’s beautiful Instagram page and website. 

About The Author

Caroline Hall

Caroline Hall

Caroline is passionate about culture and community. As an avid writer with an academic background in anthropology, she has entered the field of communication with the intention of centering people at the forefront.