Exploring Japan’s Lantern Festivals (A Amazing Sight To See)

If you’re planning to travel to Japan, you may want to consider planning your trip around one of their Lantern Festivals. There are several that take place throughout the year, in different regions of Japan. These festivals are special events for the Japanese people, and they are some of the most beautiful matsuri you’ll see.

The History Of Lanterns In Japan 

Lanterns hold a special significance in Japanese culture and they are rich in different types of symbolism. They are used to commemorate several holidays on the Japanese calendar, which have existed for centuries.

The first paper lanterns made in Japan can be traced back to the 1500s, but they were more strongly made and were constructed with bamboo, mulberry paper, and each had a handle. 

Edo Period Street

The lanterns for these festivals evolved over time in design and material, taking some inspiration from Chinese lanterns. In the Edo period, lanterns were often used to welcome and say goodbye to patrons in Yoshiwara’s red-light district.

There were also paper lanterns used to help guide the way for travelers, and they were even used as self-defense mechanisms at one point. 

Lanterns Throughout Japan Today 

It is commonplace to see various shrines and temples throughout Japan permanently decorated with paper lanterns throughout the year. Sometimes, they are even seen decorating restaurants or are creatively used to advertise products or services. 

A traditional Japanese lantern is typically made of colored paper that is somewhat transparent and often has writing or pictures on them. They also tend to be quite artistic, so they are used very often as decorations. 

Many of the designs are depictions of events or stories that are specific to Japanese culture. They are often adorned with small interior lights, as the bulbs don’t need a lot of power to illuminate the lantern through the paper. 

What Is The Significance Of Lanterns?

Lanterns can symbolize a method of lighting a path, whether through the spiritual realm or the physical one. A lantern is also a reliable source of light that does not need electricity to stay lit as most modern lanterns have battery-operated interior lights.

The lanterns used during festivals are often lit in the evening, creating a breathtaking end to a beautiful festival celebration. 

In some Japanese lantern festivals, the lanterns are meant to light a path for those who have passed on. It can help show spirits the way to the other side so they do not linger in our world.

Similarly, the lanterns can also help protect people from evil spirits who may be wandering the living world. 

A lantern can also be a vessel to bring good intentions into the world, including a hope for wealth, good health, and prosperity. They are believed to help manifest positive things into your life and into the world. 

What Types Of Lanterns Are Used During Lantern Festivals?

The most common type of lantern present at a Japanese lantern festival is the chochin lantern. This lantern is a cylindrical-shaped paper lantern, where the paper is formed over bamboo or metal wire frames.

These lanterns can be folded. They were originally used as light sources before electricity existed. The name chochin translates to bucket light in English. The lanterns are also sometimes called aka-chochin, which translates to red lantern. 

Another type of lantern also sometimes present at a Japanese lantern festival is the toro. The name is a general term for a lantern. These lanterns come in a variety of materials, such as wood, metal, or stone.

Sometimes these lanterns can be hung, while others are just stationary in place. 

What Are Some Popular Japanese Lantern Festivals?

The following are particularly well-known Japanese Lantern Festivals that you will want to experience if you’re in Japan at that time. 

Kanto Matsuri 

The Kanto Matsuri Lantern Festival takes place between August 3rd and August 6th. It’s held in the Akita Prefecture and it’s considered one of the best lantern festivals to attend. The festival is believed to have been celebrated since the 1700s, by the Akita clan, when Lord Satake Yoshimasa was reigning. 

During this festival, several paper lanterns are secured to large poles, which participants will help hold up. People will often balance these poles on different parts of their bodies, and friendly competition will often take place, to the amusement of the spectators. 

Kanto Matsuri festival, hope for a good harvest. Long bamboo poles bearing lanterns are carried through the streets

Tsunan Yuki Matsuri 

Also known as the Tsunan Snow Festival, this lantern festival is held on the second Sunday of March in the town of Tsunan. At this time, there is usually quite a bit of snow in the region; hence, the name. This is a fairly new festival celebrated in Japan, especially compared to others with a history of centuries. 

Recently, people began sending paper lanterns into the sky along with written wishes and hopes. There are usually about 1000 lanterns sent up, creating stunning night scenery along with the reflective snow. 

Tado Taisha Chochin Matsuri 

This lantern festival is held on August 11th and 12th every year. It revolves around the Tado Taisha Shrine in Mie Prefecture, in the city of Kuwana.

This shrine has been in Japan for centuries, believed to have been erected when Emperor Yuryaku was in power. The shrine is also a popular destination for people to visit throughout the year. 

During this festival, participants can buy chochin lanterns and attach well wishes to them, including wishes for a happy home, good health, and more. These lanterns will then be hung within the shrine, creating a beautiful addition to the shrine. 

Yamaguchi Tanabata Chochin Matsuri 

This lantern festival, held in Yamaguchi City on August 6th and 7th, is rich in history and significance. It was inspired during the Muromachi Period in Japan, centuries ago, when Lord Ouchi Moriharu lit lanterns and hung them up to strengthen prayers for his family’s safety.

Now, this festival brings thousands of chochin lanterns alight all throughout the city. The lanterns are set up into several types of displays, including a lantern tunnel, a tree, and many floats that parade through the streets. 

Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi

This beautiful lantern festival is typically held at the end of summer, which is known as Obon season in Japan. People who take part in this festival will light toro lanterns and let them float along the Asanogawa River.

This is fitting, as toro nagashi translates to flowing lanterns. It truly is a beautiful sight to see. 

This festival is not only held because of the beauty it creates, however. The lanterns are meant to symbolize a path to lead spirits back to the afterworld. This is because it’s believed that at the end of summer, spirits return to the land of the living. 

This event is of special significance to many Japanese people, as it creates an opportunity to remember loved ones who have passed on. Many locals will take the day off work to attend the event. 

Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro Matsuri 

This lantern festival is also known as the Snow Lantern Festival. This festival lasts for four days, starting on the second Thursday in February. There is a lotus pond surrounding the castle, which is one of the few original pieces of architecture still standing in Japan today. 

During this festival, attendees will be able to witness hundreds of snow lanterns and miniature igloos holding candles surrounding the lotus pond, creating a breathtaking sight. The festival can be traced back to 1977, when the first event took place. 

Nihonmatsu Chochin Matsuri 

This lantern festival is held between October 3rd and 6th every year, with different events to witness each day. There are floats decorated in paper lanterns that are paraded through the streets.

On the 4th of October, there are floats that move down the street, each representative of one of the region’s towns. 

On the last day, there are floats surrounding Nihonmatsu Castle, and this is the event that tends to draw a very large crowd. 

Miwaka Isshiki Chochin Matsuri 

This festival is actually more commonly known as Dai-Chochin Matsuri, and it is held on August 26th and 27th every year. The lantern festival is held in Isshiki City on Mikawa Bay. 

On the first day, there are giant lanterns depicting Japanese myths and legends erected in the morning. These lanterns are meant to pay homage to an old Japanese tradition of lighting bonfires to ward away sea demons. 

The first day also has taiko drum performances in the evening, as well as an opportunity to climb inside the lanterns after they are set up to place lighting inside. On the next day, the lanterns are lowered.

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MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.