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Morikami's Lantern Festival

Stephen Brown

A Palm Beach summer tradition has packed its bags and moved to fall. For the past 35 years, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens’ Bon Festival, a favorite for adults and children, thundered in in the late summer months. Sell-out crowds swelled the tranquil gardens, taking in a drum show, strolling the make-shift ennichi street fair and quietly observing the spirits of their lost loved ones as fire-lit lanterns floated along the gardens’ pond. At the same time, staff and volunteers hoped for sunny clear skies and a little breeze to cool the sweltering heat. The Bon Festival was great fun but hotter then hot and always at risk of afternoon thunderstorms.

The Lantern Ceremony - toro nagashi - Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens - Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon

   To ease some of these concerns while still honoring the traditions of Japan’s obon festival, the Morikami has shifted the annual Bon Festival to the Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon, scheduled for October 19 from 3-8 p.m. It is in the same vein as the Morikami’s long-held Bon Festival; all that’s changed is the date (and hopefully a more temperate climate).

   Obon (or bon) is a traditional Japanese Buddhist festival that honors the spirits of the ancestors. Celebrated for more than 500 years in Japan, obon is tied to the lunar calendar, a three-day stretch when it is believed the spirits of deceased family members and ancestors return to the land of the living. A time of family togetherness and remembrance, obon is marked with visits to ancestral homes where family members clean their ancestor’s graves as homage for the past sacrifices that have helped the current generations find their place in the present.

Morikami Museum - Delray Beach - Bon Odori - Lantern Festival: In The Spirit of Obon   During obon, families gather for festive dances called the bon odori (left), aimed to entertain the visiting the spirits. Accompanied by flutists and drummers, performances grow to a fever pitch, creating a carnival-like atmosphere, with games, entertainment and food all playing a prominent role. The festival culminates with Toro Nagashi, floating paper lanterns (some elaborately decorated, others solemn and simple) that are illuminated and floated down rivers, a symbolic gesture for the spirits returning to the world of the dead. This is usually followed by a fireworks display.

   The Lantern Festival will honor this three-day traditional festival in one fun-filled October afternoon from 3-8 p.m. The gardens will transform into a bustling ennichi street fair, complete with authentic Japanese fare, the Kirin Beer Garden for the of-age guests and shopping. The ever-entertaining Taiko drum show by Fushu Daiko will thunder with three performances—3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. Traditional Japanese folk dancing—bon odori—will take place at 4:15 p.m. and 5:45 p.m., not only offering a glimpse at a tradition 500 years in the making but also beckoning visitors to join in the fun.
   Younger festival goers will be entertained by a variety of activities, including mask-making, a Kokeshi ring toss, yoyo balloons, badminton, a bucket toss, a scarecrow throw, a maneki neko toss and a giant tic-tac-toe.

Taiko drummers - Morikami Museum - Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon

   Just after sunset, the lantern floating ceremony—Toro Nagashi—will take place on the Morikami Lake, engulfing the pond in a sea of light. Individual lanterns and shoryobune ships filled with tanzaku slips (messages of remembrance from guests) are lit, acting as a guide for the ancestors’ return from the land of the living. To cap the evening of remembrance, a dazzling fireworks display will light up the sky at 7:45 p.m.

  • Candlelit lanterns will be on sale for $10. They cannot be purchased in advance but always sell out, so grab yours early in the evening.
  • Tanzaku slips for the shoryobune ships cost $1 each.
  • The Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon will take place October 19 from 3-8 p.m.
  • Tickets are available online only—no tickets will be sold at the door.
  • Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children. Purchase them here; they are expected to sell out! SOLD OUT!
  • For more information, visit

Morikami Museum - Lantern Festival: In The Spirtit of Obon - toro nagashi - floating paper lantern

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February 2015