More than 600 candlelit lanterns floated through Berkeley Aquatic Park on Saturday evening as part of the 16th annual Bay Area Peace Lantern Ceremony, an event to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The event included a ceremony featuring Taiko drumming, speakers and messages from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The event also featured activities for the more than 3,000 attendees, such as origami paper crane folding, lantern shade decorating and postcard writing to government officials in support of the United Nations effort to ban nuclear weapons.
“We get a lot of messages before, during, after the event (about) how wonderful, how beautiful it is,” said event founder and organizer Steve Freedkin. “We just get a lot of positive reactions.”
Freedkin founded the event in 2002 after visiting Osaka as the former vice chair of the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission. In Osaka, Freedkin was touched by the story of a World War II survivor, and vowed he would attend a lantern festival every year on her behalf.
Upon returning to the United States, Freedkin gathered a group of friends to establish the first Bay Area Peace Lantern Ceremony, which he said was attended by about 100 people.
Since its inception, the ceremony has grown significantly, primarily due to the Facebook events algorithm, according to Freedkin. He added that the event has become a “social phenomenon.”
“There were kids who grew up with this thing, who were toddlers when they first started coming,” Freedkin said. “In the last few years, because of Facebook, it’s become much more of a diverse crowd, much more of a young crowd … and that has really been something I’m pleased with.”
San Francisco resident Marcie Patacsil said she heard about the event on Facebook and was encouraged by her friend to attend the peace lantern ceremony.
“This event has everyone coming together to set off these little pieces of wishes and good thoughts,” Patacsil said. “It’s just a good experience and a chance to spend some time with friends that are family.”
Some of the volunteers were introduced to the event through Facebook as well. Yuka Takahashi said she found the Peace Lantern Ceremony on accident after she moved to the Bay Area from Hiroshima four months ago. In addition to teaching event-goers how to fold paper cranes, Takahashi also read the statement from the mayor of Hiroshima during the ceremony.
Takahashi said she learned a lot about peace in Hiroshima, and she wanted to see what events people in other countries were holding for peace.
“Atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima, but this is not a problem only in Hiroshima,” Takahashi said. “People all over the world should think about this problem … and this is a good place to think about peace.”