Tokyo Diaries – Asakusa Toro Nagashi

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The end of Obon, and the end of summer break.

I already talked about the Japanese tradition of Toro Nagashi when I posted about the version at Ueno Koen (held in July because much of Kanto schedules Obon based on the old lunisolar calendar) so no need to do so in detail again.  Tokyo’s largest and most well-known rendition is held on the Sumida River in Asakusa, the heart of old Shitamachi, and I’d long hoped to check it out for myself.

The weather cleared just as the ceremony was to begin, but the crowds certainly didn’t – they dwarfed anything I saw at Ueno.  Truth be told this is both a more commercial and more traditional version of the event – a river is typically used, its current symbolizing the carrying of the spirit to the afterlife.  And indeed, crowds and all this was certainly a more beautiful ceremony despite the more urban the setting.  What it really makes me long to do is see Toro Nagashi in a small village somewhere, with the lanterns being carried away on a babbling little stream – but I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience it here.  It’s one of the most powerfully symbolic rituals in Japanese Buddhism, and it always puts me in a contemplative frame of mind.

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  1. R

    This truly is quite a scene to see that many lanterns floating down the river. Some of your photos trigger the emotions inside me, making me think of the loved ones in our family who passed away… It's weird — we're not buddhist and haven't even seen the ritual in real life — but knowing the meaning behind it changes my perspective when browsing through your photos.

  2. It certainly changes mine when taking them.

  3. v

    I was there too last night. Truly a spiritual experience. Though it was kind of a downer that further downstream of the river they had boats going around mopping up the lanterns…. I suppose it's good to be considerate of the environment as well.

  4. Yeah, that was… oddly distressing, wasn't it?

  5. F

    Lovely pics and clips Enzo … many thanks. I always loved the visual imagery of this tradition when it was shown in anime (the scenes in Tamayura of Fuu making a lantern for her father and Sora no Woto of the base leader making a boat for her fallen soldier comrades jump to mind most immediately) and imagined it would be lovely in real life too.

    A fitting end for a festival honoring the dead. 🙂

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