The Bon Festival is inspired by Obon, which is Japan’s traditional three-day holiday that honors departed ancestors and thanks them for the quality of life enjoyed by the living.
At Bon, people commemorate lost ancestors by decorating paper laterns with heartfelt messages and prayers. Some are funny, others thank relatives for all they have given and meant to their living relatives, while others are full of sadness and longing for family members gone too soon.
Later in the evening, after the sun has set and darkness has taken over, the laterns are then set alight and placed on the lake and set adrift.
It’s an emotional day — particularly when attendees are decorarting their lanterns with remembrances and messages — and a beautiful ceremony and evening.
The festival and ceremonial lighting of lanterns is open to all, regardless of background.
Visitors to the Morikami are surprised to discover a there’s a connection linking Japan and South Florida that goes back more than a century. It is here that a group of young Japanese farmers created a community intended to revolutionize agriculture in Florida.
In 1904, Jo Sakai, a recent graduate of New York University, returned to his homeland of Miyazu, Japan, to organize a group of pioneering farmers and lead them to what is now northern Boca Raton. With the help of the Model Land Company, a subsidiary of Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railroad, they formed a farming colony they named Yamato, an ancient name for Japan.
Ultimately, the results of their crop experimentation were disappointing and the Yamato Colony fell far short of its goals. By the 1920s, the community, which had never grown beyond 30 to 35 individuals, finally surrendered its dream. One by one, the families left for other parts of the United States or returned to Japan.
One settler remained. His name was George Sukeji Morikami. A modest farmer, George continued to cultivate local crops and act as a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. In the mid-1970s, when George was in his 80s, he donated his land to Palm Beach County with the wish to preserve it as a park and to honor the memory of the Yamato Colony.
Together with his friends, neighbors and the Palm Beach County Department of Parks and Recreation, George’s simple dream took on a new dimension. With the opening of The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, a living monument was created, building a bridge of cultural understanding between George Morikami’s two homelands.
The Morikami continues on its mission to preserve, protect and interpret Japanese culture and the Japanese-American heritage.