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Nagano Tomyo Lantern Festival

Nagano Tomyo Lantern Festival

Held every year since 2004, the Zenko-ji Tomyo Lantern Festival takes place at Nagano City’s near-1400 year old Zenko-ji Temple to commemorate the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Held between February 7th to 22nd 1998, the Winter Olympics were considered a grand success which brought Nagano to international attention and firmly established it as one of Asia’s premier wintersports destination. In celebration of the Olympics and the temple, the festival takes places over one week each February with a series nightly events including the lighting of the temple along with decoration of the historic ‘Omotesando’ (Pilgrim’s Road) and Nakamise (shopping street). Most notably, the temple complex is lit up in all manner of colours while beautiful ‘kiri-e’ (paper-cut) lanterns line the street leading to the temple. Designed by professional artists, hobbyists and local children, the array of themes and patterns is diverse.

The inclusion of both professional artists, hobbyists and local school children in creating the numerous lanterns underscores the festival’s community spirit and blends the abstract with the literal, traditional images with the cute; and though the festival may seem simple in its design, it has a strong religious basis. The world ‘tomyo’ means to offer light to the Buddha, regarded as a fundamental practice in  Buddhism that symbolises an awareness of our own limitations and need to forgo selfish thoughts and acts. In making an offering of light to the Buddha, we invite the light of wisdom which radiates from him, to illuminate the dark and dispel ignorance; and in doing so, Buddhists believe we win merit, eradicate past misdeeds, and light our path toward enlightenment.

As one of Japan’s most important temples for pilgrimage, the streets surrounding the temple are home to many ‘shukubo’ (traditional temple lodgings). During the festival, many shukubo also light their facades or place light installations inside their courtyards – a truly beautiful sight in the cold winter night and an Instagrammers delight!

For many, these delightful displays of traditional aesthetic brought to light with modern flair represent the highlight of the festival, imbuing a dream-like atmosphere on the precinct and magical element to their evening wanderings. Unlike the boisterous festivals of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, this is a small and tranquil festival with a very local feel.

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In 2022 we are happy to offer our newest special event Nagano’s Hidden Samurai Town & Zenko-ji Tomyo Lantern Festival Tour. Combining an evening visit to the festival along with afternoon exploration of Matsushiro – Nagano’s historic samurai town – and early dinner at Monzen Terrace Enya, we are pleased to introduce our newest tour with the introductory rate of 50% for all guests!

*Please note, the light installations featured at the festival change from year-to-year and installations shown on this page may not be included in future festivals.

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