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.
1 Day Tour
|1-Day Tour: Snow Monkeys & Zenko-ji Tomyo Lantern Festival|
|Time||10:45/12:15 – 19:50/21:00|
|Meeting Place||Hakuba |
1 Day Tour
|(Special Event) Nagano’s Hidden Samurai Town & Tomyo Lantern Festival Tour|
|Time||10:45/12:15 – 19:40/21:00|
|Meeting Place||Hakuba |
If you would like to experience the illumination on a guided tour, we are offering two tours in February 2023. Our popular 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Zenko-ji Tomyo Lantern Festival Tour combines a visit to the monkey park with early evening dinner at Monzen Terrace Enya followed by enjoyment of the illuminated temple at night, while our 1-Day Nagano’s Hidden Samurai Town & Tomyo Lantern Festival Tour transports you to the festival with an afternoon of samurai experiences in nearby Matsushiro. Both tours operate from Hakuba and Nagano and are guided by locally-based guides. We hope to see you at the festival!
*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.
18:00 to 21:00
February 9 to 12
Approximately 60 to 70-minutes from the Jigokudani Monkey Park
Reaching the festival on foot from Nagano Station is quick and easy. Simply exit via the Zenkoji Exit and follow the crowds toward the temple - approx. a 1.6km / 20-minute walk