Tokyo Diaries – Ueno Shinobazu no Ike Tourou Nagashi

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Summer has truly arrived in Tokyo.

Tourou Nagashi is one of the most important rituals in Japanese spiritual life.  Chouchin paper lanterns are floated down a river on the last day of Obon, the lights guiding the spirits back to the afterlife.  Obon is traditionally observed in August, but by Tokyo custom the old lunisolar calendar (Hyouka fans will get that reference) date is usually used, and it’s observed in July.

There are a few Tourou Nagashi ceremonies in Tokyo – the biggest is on the Sumidagawa in Asakusa and actually is observed in August – and I really wanted to see this at least once.  The ceremony in Ueno is actually performed using Shinobazu Pond, the natural body of water in Ueno Park.  Monks from the Benton-do temple on a man-made island at the center of the pond row out in the small boats that are rentals by day, and release the chouchin on the water’s surface as a large torch burns in the middle of the pond.

Sadly, this is one of those instances where pictures and video just don’t do the experience justice – nighttime really exposes the limitations of an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.  Still, I snapped a few for posterity and I thought I’d share them.  Weather permitting I plan to check out the Asakusa ceremony next month.

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  1. m

    I'd love to see this someday! In my country, there isn't much sight of culture. I had thought there'll be more of those lanterns though (my knowledge of japanese culture is severely limited though so I don't dare say). They must look very pretty in real life.

  2. As I said, the pics don't really do the event justice. I suspect they would look more impressive on a river, as is traditional – they were being released all over the pond and it's a pretty big pond.

  3. R

    This must be quite an experience to see it with your own eyes. It seems like this is a tradition that's shared between the Chinese and the Japanese, and perhaps other Asian cultures. I've only seen it in movies but never in real life…would love to. This is not a Shinto tradition, is it?

    Summer has also arrived here, too…love it tons because it's always so short-lived. How hot is it in Tokyo right now? Has the rainy season arrived? Thinking of the rainy season, it reminds me of Shinkai's Kotonoha no Niwa…still love that movie.

  4. R

    Forgot to say…so excited to read your Tokyo Dairies again…Enzo has his life back after all the first impressions…teehee.

  5. This is definitely a Buddhist thing.

  6. m

    Does it have the same roots as Loy Krathong (celebrated in Thailand)? As far as I know, it's a Buddhist custom….

  7. From what I read it seems as if the Thai custom has an unrelated significance.

  8. e

    It's good to have these posts back. Also because – as Ronbb sistah rightly pointed out – it means you've managed to unchain yourself from the blogging desk for a bit :p.

  9. H

    What do you do for a living in Japan?

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