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Lantern parade returns to Kona Coffee Cultural Festival

November 2, 2015 - 9:23am

The lantern parade disappeared from the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in 2012. But it never went far from people’s hearts.

“People brought it up every year,” said Festival President Mel Morimoto.

The lantern parade is back with a brand new finale at the 45th annual celebration — 10 days of festivities that begin Nov. 6 to honor coffee’s deep roots in the region’s history and identity.

Linda Nagai, chairwoman of the festival’s parade committee, remembers the sea of faces that would line the sidewalk during the lantern parade, and she always got the feeling it was special to people.

“They really looked forward to it,” she said. “People can’t believe it’s back.”

The lantern procession, a mainstay of the festival for several decades, has always been small, with around 20 entries, Nagai said. There is still plenty of room for entries in this year’s parade, she said.

The parade runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 13, starting at the Hale Halawai county pavilion in Kailua Village, winding down Alii Drive and ending at Kailua Pier. The parade will culminate with a floating lantern ceremony at Kamakahonu Bay.

The procession of 200 lanterns is sponsored by Alaska Airlines. The lanterns will be assembled at 3 p.m. at Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel, where people will be able to get their lantern and inscribe their message. The lanterns are free, but a donation is encouraged, Nagai said.

“We hope to get 200 people,” she said.

Although the Buddhist ritual has been a traditional way to pay respects to the departed, that does not necessarily have to be the theme of this event, Morimoto said.

“You can have a message of world peace. It’s open to anything,” Morimoto said.

“It will be a very humbling experience, to say the least,” he said. “I think it’s going to be great for the community and visitors.”

Nagai said the parade is good way to remember the Japanese ancestors and those of other races whose struggles made Kona coffee possible.

“If not for them, we wouldn’t have Kona coffee today,” she said.

Besides the parade revival, this year’s festival has a number of brand new events, including the November Harvest Concert with the West Hawaii County Band, to be held at Hale Halawai immediately after the floating lantern celebration.

Also a first is the Big Island &Hiroshima Peace Concert, slated for Nov. 11 at the Kona Hongwanji Hall from 4:30 to 8 p.m. The event features singer-songwriter Kazumi Nikaido, born in Hiroshima and probably best known for writing the theme to The Tale of Princess Kaguya, a 2013 animated Japanese fantasy film which was nominated for an Academy Award.

The concert marks the wish of Hawaii and Hiroshima sister cities for world peace on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

On the 12th, the Donkey Mill Art Center in Holualoa will host a talk story with Walter “Trippy” Dods on the filming of the documentary “The Long Journey Home.” Dods’ project examines three generations of Japanese immigrants in Kona, including the challenges of farming coffee, the exploits of the Nisei soldiers in World War II and the discrimination faced during that time, culminating with the tale of Kona’s own astronaut Ellison Onizuka.

The Hoolaulea on Nov. 14 has 10 events geared to visitor participation, including new mochi pounding and coffee roasting demonstrations.

“We’re trying to make it more and more interactive,” Morimoto said. “I’m confident we have something for everyone.”

The all-day event at the Keauhou Shopping Center also features a lei contest, taiko drumming and bon dance.

Also on tap for the festival are the tried and true favorites: the Kona coffee cupping competition, farm tours, the Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Pageant, recipe contests, coffee picking, a talent show, and much more.

When all is said and done, somewhere between 500 and 1,000 volunteers and a huge amount of community effort make it all possible, Morimoto said.

“We couldn’t do this without the community support,” he said.

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