Floating lanterns in Berkeley mark 71st anniversary of atomic bombings

Dozens of lanterns float on the water near Aquatic Park of Aug. 6 to mark the bombing os Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Photo: Ted Friedman
Dozens of lanterns float on the water near Aquatic Park on Saturday, Aug. 6, to mark the bombing os Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Photo: Ted Friedman

Thousands of people gathered at the north end of Aquatic Park in Berkeley on Saturday night for the 15th annual Peace Lantern ceremony, which commemorates the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

People wrote messages and drew pictures on lantern shades, which were then floated on the water. In addition to decorating lanterns, people folded origami cranes.

Aug. 6 and 9 mark the 71st anniversary of the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombings and their aftermath killed 129,000 people and prompted Japan to surrender during World War II. It remains the only use of nuclear weapons in the world.

In 1948, survivors of the Hiroshima bombing and local residents floated lanterns on nearby rivers in Japan to mark the third anniversary and to pray that friends and relatives killed in the blast were at peace. The commemoration turned into an annual event with thousands of candle-lit lanterns floated on the water.


“Traditionally, the Japanese write a victim’s name and their own names on a lantern,” according to the website of the San Francisco Bay Area Peace Lantern Ceremony. “But these days, many participants write prayers for peace or draw pictures on the lanterns and float them.”

Photo: Ted Friedman
Glowing lanterns float on the water at Aquatic Park. Photo: Ted Friedman

Berkeley hosted the first Bay Area-wide peace lantern ceremony in 2002. It was started after Steve Freedkin, then vice-chair of the Berkeley Peace & Justice Commission, was moved by a woman he met in Japan who wished to attend a ceremony, but whose health prevented it, according to the website.

Freedkin vowed to attend a ceremony for the woman. When he returned to the U.S., he worked with the Berkeley City Council, the Peace & Justice Commission, and various local groups to create the ceremony. In 2002, about 100 people attended. In 2015, more than 2,000 people participated, according to the group.

Berkeleyside contributing photographer Ted Friedman took these photos of the event (which was highlighted on Berkeleyside’s It List last week.)

People draw and decorate the covering of the lanterns that will be floated on the water. Photo: Ted Friedman
People draw and decorate the covering of the lanterns that will be floated on the water. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
In addition to writing messages, attendees also fold paper cranes. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
Attendees wrote messages before floating their lanterns on the water. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
The bridge and shoreline are crowded with spectators for the lantern festival. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
Thousands attended Saturday’s lantern festival. Photo: Ted Friedman
Peace Lantern ceremony 2016
Attendees watch the ceremony from the pedestrian and bike bridge above Aquatic Park. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
The lantern festival drew thousands of people, organizers said. Photo: Ted Friedman
Photo: Ted Friedman
Lanterns float on the water. Photo: Ted Friedman

Individuals who would like to sign up to volunteer for next year’s event can do so online.

Follow Berkeleyside on Twitter and Facebook or get the latest news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s Daily Briefing. Email us at tips@berkeleyside.com. Keep Berkeleyside running and support independent local journalism by becoming a member.