Written by Matteo Giuberto
Asakusa Paper Lantern Festival - Splendid Lights on Sumida River
One of the most impressive events held in Japan in the summer is "toro nagashi" - releasing candle-lit lantern into the river. In this article we explain how to take part in the Paper Lantern Festival held each year in Asakusa.
When visiting Tokyo, it is a good idea to experience things that we cannot find in our home country. Besides tasting the local food, visiting beautiful places and shopping, it is great to try and take part in local activities, which would become wonderful memories from our trip.
During my one month stay in Tokyo during the summer holidays, I had the opportunity to attend the Toro Nagashi Festival ("The Festival of Candle-lit Lanterns"), which is held once a year by the Sumida River in Asakusa. It was a great experience, so let me introduce the features of this unique festival.
What is the Toro Nagashi Festival?
"Toro Nagashi" is an event is held throughout Japan during the Obon season around the middle of August, when the Japanese people remember their ancestors and departed family members.
There is a belief in Japan that the souls of the deceased return to their homes during the days of Obon. Toro Nagashi is a memorial service in which the participants release candle-lit paper lanterns (called "tōrō") in the river remembering the souls of the dead. It is believed that the light of the paper lantern will guide the souls of the departed ones back to heaven.
The Toro Nagashi Festival held in Asakusa by the Sumida River is an impressive ceremony that gathers thousands of participants each year. The event is held in the evening, yet the participants start coming to the Sumida River around noon in order to purchase the paper lanterns.
This year the Toro Nagashi Festival included the first edition of special event for international visitors. The organizers offered "Toro Nagashi Free Passes" to 200 visitors from overseas, who were able to watch the festival while riding a boat on the Sumida River. These boarding tickets are free of charge and are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.
If your are visiting Asakusa during the festival, you can either get a Free Pass Ticket and enjoy the view of the lanterns from the boat, or purchase a lantern and take part in the event yourself. I chose the latter and it was great fun, so let me introduce to you how it's done.
How to Take Part in the Toro Nagashi Festival
1. Come to the location
The reception of the festival is located in front of the Tokyo Cruise building, on the bank of Sumida River, a 3 minute walk from Asakusa station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line. Please make sure you come early before 2 PM, as it gets very crowded.
2. Purchase and decorate the paper lantern
You can purchase a paper lantern at the reception (1500 yen). This year's lanterns had an elegant design with irises.
The next step is to decorate your lantern. There are special areas around the reception where you can sit down and draw the lanterns the way you like it, writing your wishes, as well as the names of your family and friends on it.
I also drew what I liked, including an image of myself on one side, and also wrote some of my wishes such as good health for my entire family, prosperity and other positive things.
3. Line Up
After you finish decorating your paper lantern, you should get in the line waiting your turn to release your lantern. It is a good idea to arrive earlier than 6 PM, since there are thousands of people participating in this event.
That's me standing in the line, with my lantern. As you can see, many people gathered for the event, including visitors from overseas.
When you see so many people, you might think it would take forever to reach the river. However, it took me less than an hour to get to the place for releasing the candles.
4. Releasing the paper lantern
When you reach the river, you have your lantern lit by a member of the staff and then release it on a platform with flowing water that will bring your lantern into the river.
And that's it! Look how beautiful it is. The light of the candles against the background of the river creates a beautiful night landscape.
You can enjoy the Paper Lantern Festival in Asakusa, either by taking part in the event itself and releasing your own lantern, or watching the event from a boat on the Sumida River. Either way it is a great occasion to witness this traditional event and get to know the Japanese culture better.
I enjoyed this event very much, since it was a completely new experience. The meaning and beliefs behind the paper lanterns were the thing that impressed me most. I warmly recommend everybody to come to the Paper Lantern Festival if you're visiting Asakusa in the summer.
Asakusa Summer Evening Festival "Toro Nagashi" Paper Lantern Festival
Location: Tokyo, Taito ward, Hanakawado, Tokyo Cruise 1-1-1
Nearest station: Asakusa Station
Access: 3-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Tobu Isezaki Line.
Website: Asakusa Summer Evening Festival