BERKELEY -- Hundreds of just-made Japanese lanterns floated on the waters of the Aquatic Park lagoon Saturday evening. Some bore peace signs, some hearts, one had a bird, another a flower; there were rainbows and oceans. Some shared written messages: "What the world needs now is peace;" "honor the earth;" "happy."
It was Berkeley's 13th peace lantern ceremony. "People decorate lantern shades with images of the world we want to create," said Steve Freedkin, who patterned Berkeley's ceremony after ones that have been held in Japan and elsewhere since World War II.
The event, sponsored by the city and numerous Bay Area peace groups, is held to remember the 140,000 people who died when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on Aug. 6, 1945 and the 70,000 dead from a second World War II bomb drop at Nagasaki three days later.
Many of the more than 200 people who gathered Saturday also had today's violent world on their minds.
From Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "to the killing fields of Cambodia, to the ongoing tragedy of Agent Orange and decimation of people in Southeast Asia, to what we witness on TV in Gaza, we need to recommit ourselves to peace," said Councilman Max Anderson, addressing the gathering during a short program.
Letters were read from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"Sixty-nine years ago the skies were covered by a pitch black nuclear cloud. The single atomic bomb dropped by a United States bomber blew away houses and engulfed the city of Nagasaki in flames," wrote Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, who has been critical of the Japanese government's push toward greater militarization.
Taue appealed to his government to take the lead in a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons and concluded: "Citizens of the world, let us give the next generation a world free of nuclear weapons."
Before the program, people sat at picnic tables and drew their messages and designs on sheets of paper they would then fold into boxes and affix to a lantern base.
Misha Fu, 9, was with her mother and brother, drawing peace signs and hearts for her lantern shade. "I want people to have peace," she said.
Her mother, Shihyi Hong, who came to the Bay Area via Japan, Taiwan and Florida, said she thought the event was especially important for her children. "I think it's what we need, especially when I see the news. It's very sad, and I just want my kids to know" about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she said.
With night beginning to fall after the speeches and music, people moved toward the edge of the lagoon and began to slide their lanterns down a chute and into the lagoon. (Candles were to be lit in the center of the lantern shades, but the wind prevented that, for the most part.)
Author, academic and well-known peace activist Rita Maran, who helped organize the event and emceed the program, took a minute away from her chores to say why she puts so much time and energy into the ceremony each year.
"Terrible things happen and we need to remember them to try not to do it again," she said. "Then we can perhaps grab control of this lawless nation and lawless society we're in."