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Posted on Sun, Aug 7, 2011 : 6:12 p.m.

Thinking of peace at the Buddhist Toro Nagashi after the terrorist attack in Norway

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


Paper lanterns dedicated and ready for launch at a 2007 Toro Nagashi ceremony.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang | Contributor

Two weeks after the Obon Festival, a Buddhist holiday to remember and celebrate one’s ancestors, during which spirits are said to come home to visit the family for two weeks, comes the Toro Nagashi, a Buddhist ritual to send our visiting ancestors back on their way to the realm of the spirits.

It is a beautiful ceremony, held at sunset at water’s edge, with Japanese American ladies in purple robes chanting, a Buddhist priest saying prayers, younger folks performing taiko drumming and song. Individual paper lanterns are dedicated to family members, lit, then towed out to sea by a small boat.

The ancestors who have been home visiting their families in the world of the living follow the bobbing lanterns down the river and out to sea, which helps them find their way back to the land of the spirits.

One could make a bad joke here that although we all like our relatives to visit, we do not like them to stay too long.

However, really, the point of the ritual is to remember and honor our loved ones who have passed. In Honolulu, the ritual is held early, on Memorial Day for additional meaning: “The ceremony remembers those who gave their lives in conflict, allows for reflection on the memories of loved ones and dedicates prayers for a peaceful and harmonious future. Just as the waters of the Pacific merge with each ocean, the wish for peace and happiness extends from Hawaii across the globe.”

The images from this Lantern Floating Hawaii in Honolulu, just a few miles down the road from Pearl Harbor, are a moving testament to what multiculturalism could be. Folks of all races and ethnicities gather together at the sea, celebrate with hula dance and taiko drumming, Hawaiian chants and Japanese Buddhist blessings, messages of peace and hope written in many different languages, flowers and light.

On Memorial Day. For peace.

This year, I attend the Toro Nagashi with the tragedy in Norway heavy on my mind.

Anders Behring Breivik thought his attack was necessary, that he was fighting against multiculturalism, immigrants and the “Islamization of Europe.”

I have been reading some of the American right wing Christian bloggers and writers that inspired him, writers who were so quick to insist that the attack must have been the work of Muslim extremists and so defensive when Breivik turned out to be Christian and their work implicated.

They are not an easy read. Such anger, hatred, ego, and violence. With so much vitriol directed at The Other, how can they be surprised when their anger spirals out of control? What is it about their worldview that only people of other colors or faiths are capable of such terrible things?

When Japan beat the U.S. women’s team during the World Cup last month, the topics #PearlHarbor and #WorldCup were trending simultaneously on Twitter, and Facebook was full of taunts and threats of another Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and tsunami too). It is so disconcerting to see all these smiling faces of happy families with babies alongside messages like, “Hiroshima Nagasaki. USA still wins.

More than 200,000 people died 66 years ago this Aug. 6 and 9. There has to be a better way.

Perhaps we can learn from the country that created the Nobel Peace Prize. Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is reported as saying, “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.”

When asked whether Oslo needs greater security, Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang is reported as saying, “I don’t think security can solve problems. We need to teach greater respect.”

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog and a contributor for Chicago is the World. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 11:41 a.m.

@gerald brennan--Your Martian analogy does not work. Breivik does not simply claim to be Christian. Breivik was baptised at age 15 (which takes more intention than being baptised as an infant), he has not renounced his faith, he has not been excommunicated, why would he not be a Christian? Even though he committed unChristian acts, there is always room for confession and absolution if he were to want it. I do not believe the Church instantaneously expels people without process when they commit sins, however horrible.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 10:16 a.m.

@gerald brennan--you are mistaken. Islam is a religion of peace.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 8:13 p.m.

@polecat and @notfromaroundhere--I am an American, I went to Catholic schools, my family has been Christian for at least four generations.

Not from around here

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 4:38 p.m.

My family has also been here for 4 generations. After my great grand parents, no one considered themselve anything but American. They went to schools that taught in english only, they went to churches that preached in english and, when called on, only left the country to return to there parent homeland to fight against it in WW2. Both of my grandfathers experience discrimination during the war and changed there names to more standard american pronounciation. They never refered to themselves of us as _______-american nor talked about or complaigned about there experiences with discrimination. Maybe in these times it more important to express our simularities and work together than emphises our differences and live seperatly in this country.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 8:10 p.m.

@topcat--There is new research that shows that Japan was in the process of surrendering, that they would have surrendered if they had been presented with the proposal they ultimately signed, that many top US military leaders including General Dwight Eisenhower, General Douglas MacArthur, and chief of staff Admiral William Leahy thought that Japan had already been defeated and that an atomic attack on Japanese cities was unnecessary. Check out Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (9780316831246) by late UC Berkeley Professor Ronald Takaki: Books: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Yet today people--not you I'm sure--are gloating about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in reference to a soccer game, and gloating about the tsunami as payback for Pearl Harbor. That is the criticism. That is where the hurt is.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 8:06 p.m.

@gerald brennan--Breivik self-identified as Christian. He chose to be baptised at 15. He supports a reconstituted Knights Templar to basically restart the Crusades against Islam. Now, no one ever said he was a &quot;good Christian,&quot; and no one said this has anything to do with real Christians or the teachings of Christianity. However misguided, he self-identified as Christian and felt he was doing this for Christendom. Similarly, those Muslims who engage in terrorism are not really following the teachings of Islam, but many in the media are irresponsibly blasting all Muslims for the actions of a few. The media needs to be consistent. If there can be &quot;Muslim terrorists,&quot; then there can be &quot;Christian terrorists.&quot; The criticism is not against people of faith, but of how those people are represented. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Not from around here

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

Gerald, I've heard the argument both ways, i.e religion of peace and religion of terror, I have no idea what the Koran or Islam's stance is. Do you have any examples to back up your claim?

gerald brennan

Tue, Aug 9, 2011 : 9:36 a.m.

I don't care if he &quot;self-identified&quot; himself as Christian. If he self-identified as a Martian, you would call him a Martian? No. You would not. But in your writing YOU i.d.'d him as a Christian, and there is nothing in Christianity that confirms this. And yes, if you have studied the Koran, and were less squeamish, you would know that a good case could be made that Muslims who engage in terrorism actually ARE following the teachings of Islam.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

@Technojunkie--That two groups took responsibility for the bombing does not mean that Muslims thought Muslims did it, it means that two groups took responsibility for something they knew they did not do. The news media--whatever its political persuasion--has a responsibility to verify facts, report news, not just make stuff up. Especially inflammatory stuff that can incite others. Innocent Muslims in Norway, including women, were attacked and beaten in the hours after the bombing as &quot;payback&quot; because of it. As Rep. Gifford wrote after Sarah Palin published her infamous map with the targets, &quot;words have consequences.&quot; Loughner has been ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Not from around here

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

Frances, can you possible right an article once in a blue moon that doesn't see racism around every corner? It seems that you believe that true evil in the world has to be A. Christian and B. American. It must truely be sad to live in such a world.

Top Cat

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 12:24 p.m.

Ms. Wang states that she is of Chinese ancestry. She is very selective when speaking of the deaths from World War 2. &quot;More than 200,000 people died 66 years ago this Aug. 6 and 9.&quot; How many Chinese and how many Americans died in the war that neither of them started? There is a better way. It is called a strong and vigilant defense.

Not from around here

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 7:54 p.m.

well what do you expect? The writer has gone out of her way to see racism against Asians in every article she writes. And the staff of the aeem to go out of there way to insult Christians and Americans whenever there is the slightest opportunity. I have spoke to Tony on numerous occasion and find him to be a reasonable and intelligent man but his staff is terribly offensive.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Exactly, the better way is for countries like Japan and Germany to have not started the whole damn mess. The writer is the typical blame all that is bad in the world on Christians and Americans.

gerald brennan

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 10:02 a.m.

So the attacker was a &quot;Christian&quot;? If I claim to be a Martian, does that make me a Martian? By your lights, Frances, it does. Call him a male, call him a Norwegian, call him barking mad -- but when YOU call him a Christian you need to justify that and you cannot. There's little deep thinking in your piece, but much pro-forma multiculturalism that feels good and contributes nothing.

Not from around here

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 8 p.m.

Gerald buddy, you don't need facts to attack christians in this blog. the fact that their christians is good enough for the staff.


Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 4:58 a.m.

Two Islamic terrorist groups took credit for the Norway bombing before authorities let it be known that Breivik did it. Given that Muslims thought it was one of their own, and that &quot;Muslim extremists&quot; blow people up (of diverse ethnicities and religions worldwide) nearly every day, where do you get off criticizing us for assuming the same? I don't recall any such restraint from the Left over Gifford's shooter, who quickly turned out to be a flag burning Communist but we Tea Partiers were scapegoated in the media for weeks. I'm sick of the Left's pious hypocrisy, and looking at the list of censored comments to this article I'm clearly not the only one.

Not from around here

Mon, Aug 8, 2011 : 7:59 p.m.

In, its only ok to attack people if there white, christian and/or american. Facts aren't important either.


Sun, Aug 7, 2011 : 5:38 p.m.

If only intolerance of intolerance was an effective way of dealing with intolerance.