Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (34): The Kagoshima lanterns

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 17, 2007

WHILE THE YAMAKASA FESTIVAL was being held in Fukuoka City at the northern end of Kyushu this weekend, the Rokugatsudo was underway down in Kagoshima City at the southern end of the island. If you were lucky enough to be at the Terukuni Shinto Shrine at that city this past weekend, you would have been part of this:

The festival got its start when the 19th feudal lord of the local Shimazu clan, Mitsuhisa, donated a lantern at the local temple as a prayer for children and protection from illness. (Mitsuhisa is also known for building Sengan-en in 1659. This 16.5-hectare garden was at the daimyo’s second home. Now a public park, it has a magnificent view of Kinko Bay and Sakurajima, a small island with an active volcano that lies in the bay near the city. I’ve been there, and it is no exaggeration to say the view is magnificent.)

Taking their cue from the feudal lord, many of the local townspeople donated lanterns of their own and lit them, starting the festival tradition. Rokugatsudo literally means June lanterns. (The event began in June when the lunar calendar was in use.)

The paper lanterns are lit every night during the 15-day period from July 1 to July 16 at different shrines and temples throughout the city, with the biggest single event being the one held at Terukuni on the nights of the 15th and the 16th. That event features large, 2.5 meter-wide lanterns and about 1,000 smaller individual lanterns lining the main path to the shrine.

The event is largely conducted by neighborhood associations and children’s groups, and most of the lanterns are handmade. The city sponsors a big fireworks display, performers dance on stage, and about 200 stalls are set up to sell fried octopus and other Japanese summertime festival treats. Between 200,000 and 300,000 people turn out every year, but officials estimated that only about 150,000 would make it this year, perhaps because of the typhoon that passed through the area this weekend.

Now that’s what I call a City of Light!

I cannot urge you strongly enough to visit this site. The photos are stunning and will give you an idea of the scale of the event, particularly #20. If you don’t read Japanese, just click on the column of red numbers at the right.

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