Lighting the way for ancestors

Summer is a time of festivals and celebrations in Japan. An interesting one is toro nagashi, a Japanese tradition where paper lanterns lit with candles are released into a river. A yearly event in Tokyo is held along the Sumida River, where upwards of 2,000 lanterns are set afloat. IMG_7919

Toro nagashi is a tradition in which the lanterns are released on rivers to guide the spirits of the ancestors back to the other side during the Obon holiday. Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating ancestors. It’s a time when many Japanese travel to their home towns, to reunite with their families and pay respects to ancestors. The festival lasts for three days, but dates vary from region to region.

This year, the Sumida River toro nagashi was on the evening of August 11. Although not the biggest crowd I’ve seen in Asakusa, there were still thousands of people who turned out on a hot, muggy summer night.

For those who want to participate, a lantern can be purchased for 1,500 yen (a little under $15 US). Those with lanterns are directed to a line where the lanterns can be released into the river, beginning at dusk. Some people also release lanterns from party boats that position themselves in the river.

Even if you don’t participate in the lantern release, it does make for an interesting evening. Just watching the people makes attending this festival worthwhile. Although the majority are Japanese, Asakusa also attracts many foreigners. Walking through the crowd, it’s easy to hear English, German, French, Chinese, Italian, and a number of languages less obvious to identify.

The big crowds and unfamiliar culture may seem a bit intimidating for first-time visitors to Japan. But set aside any concerns, and you’ll find festivals like the Sumida toro nagashi to be a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s amazing culture. IMG_7934

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My husband and I were both born and raised in Kansas, but for the past 20+ years we have been living in Atlanta, Georgia. Now, with our children grown and out of the house, we have the opportunity to spend two years living in Tokyo. My husband will be working with the Japanese counterpart to his American company. UPDATE 2023... After 4-1/2 years in Tokyo, we returned to Atlanta. Now we are heading to London for a three year job assignment!

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