Public participation in paper lantern floating event on August 6 canceled due to coronavirus concerns

by Aya Kano, Staff Writer

On June 5, the executive committee of the Paper Lantern Floating event revealed that this year it would not accept applications from the public for participation. The event, during which about 7,000 colorful candle-lit paper lanterns are floated on the Motoyasu River in front of the A-bomb Dome in downtown Hiroshima, takes place on the night of August 6, the anniversary of the atomic bombing. The committee concluded it would not be able to eliminate the risk of spread of the coronavirus, because crowded conditions caused by participants and observers would be unavoidable during the event. With that change, the atmosphere surrounding August 6 is also sure to change dramatically.

The floating of paper lanterns on the river is an annual event designed to send out messages of peace and mourn A-bomb victims who died while pleading for water. The event is said to have started when local residents and bereaved families of A-bomb victims floated paper lanterns to console the souls of the dead during the Bon Festival a few short years after the atomic bombing. The event is organized by the executive committee, comprised of members representing such organizations as the Association of shopping mall of Hiroshima city center (or, Chushinren) made up of local retailers.

On August 6, each year at 6:00 a.m., the executive committee begins to accept applications to attend the event. Starting at 6:00 p.m., volunteers on boats set about floating on the river paper lanterns that bereaved families have entrusted to them, while event participants write messages on pieces of specially prepared colorful paper that are placed around wooden frames of the lanterns and floated on the river from its banks. Many people gather on the riverbanks to photograph the scene.

The executive committee concluded it could not avoid the risk of coronavirus spread if the event were carried out in the manner in which it always has been. For that reason, this year the committee decided to instead conduct a memorial event, in which a limited number of committee members would perform a ceremony and float ten paper lanterns on the river.

At this year’s Peace Memorial Ceremony, organized by Hiroshima City, participant seating will be reduced by 90 percent compared with that of previous years. The Chushinren retailer association said, “It’s too bad such decisions had to be made on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing, but we hope to hold a lantern ceremony that clearly reflects our sincere prayers for the repose of the souls of the A-bomb victims.”

(Originally published on June 6, 2020)