Floating lanterns on a warm moonlit night

Toro Nagashi at Shinobazu Pond in Asakusa

The toro nagashi ceremony has been performed in Asakusa every year since 1946, just after the end of WWII. That year, people began to light lanterns to pray for lasting peace when they sent the spirits of loved ones who died in the war back to the afterlife at the end of O-bon.

Candle-lit lanterns floating across a pond on a warm moonlit night? Yes, please! This toro nagashi ceremony is held at the temple that sits on an island in Tokyo’s Shinobazu Pond. It signals the end of annual O-bon festivities—the three days in summer when the spirits of ancestors come back to check on the living.

The temple where it’s held sits on an island in the middle of the Shinobazu Pond in Asakusa, amid a sea of lotus flowers
As dusk falls, a procession of flute-playing priests makes their way to the temple
After the requisite amount of sutra-chanting and a short Buddhist ceremony, they solemnly make their way to the water with the first lighted lanterns
Soon, rafts of lanterns are launched from the far side of the water, sailed along by the evening breeze
They spread out as they pass before the lighted temple…
…and the blazing torch at the center of the pond
The candles stayed lit just about the same amount of time it took them to cross the wide pond, winking out as they reached the far shore

There are many toro nagashi ceremonies around Japan in mid-August. This one at the Shinobazu Pond is the earliest one in Tokyo, but the biggest one happens a little later, where anyone can buy a lantern for ¥1500 and launch it into the Sumida River at the Sumida River Park.

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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