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Japanese Lantern Lighting Festival in Como by Ann Treacy
August 29, 2011, 3:35 am
Filed under: St Paul

To cap off our day of celebrating Asia in Minnesota, we went to the Japanese Lantern Lighting ceremony in Como Park. We went after dinner which gave time for the kids to enjoy a few games and try out a slingshot thing. We got to see some fighting with swords and drum-dancers – the main event is the lighting of hundreds lanterns in the frog pond in front of the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. It’s really pretty spectacular – and while there are a lot of people there, the “show” takes place in a big space so you don’t feel too crowded or short.

The one suggestion I would have for the planners – is that it would be nice to have someone narrate the event a little bit. It seemed as if there must be some significance to the lighting and everything else but it was a little lost of us. I was able to find some explanation on the Twin Cities Daily Planet site. (Quick note, I’m on the board of the Daily Planet. They give voice to traditionally underrepresented voices through training and publication. So I was kind of pleased to see this article pop up in my search. It was the only place I was able to find a good explanation of significance of the event.)

The event culminates in the lighting of hundreds of paper lanterns displayed on the pond in the Como Park Japanese Garden and Frog Pond. The Minnesota celebration emulates the Obon festivals that take place all over Japan at this time of year.

According to Buddhism and Japanese folk belief, the souls of the dead may interact with the living during Obon. In Japan, it is a family holiday and people pay their respects ancestors by offering food and drink on a tray called a “bon” in front of an altar. They also light lanterns or small fires to guide the souls home. The festival in Como Park has grown into the largest Japan related event in the upper Midwest, despite the fact that the Japanese American community in Minnesota is extremely small.

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