Light It Up! My First Lantern Festival in Japan

Nara ticks all the boxes if you are a history aficionado, deer lover, and coffee shop hopper. Narrow alleys leading to random restaurants and workshops bring the townscape to life. No wonder it’s one of the first places I fell in love with in Japan. So, when I craved a visit to Nara last week, I trusted my gut and jumped on the first train.

Isn’t it so adorable?

There is something magical about traveling solo (and spontaneously). I love traveling with others, but I’m more attentive to details and can appreciate beauty more fully when I’m alone. This time, I visited a wonderful temple and even encountered an unexpected festival thanks to my spontaneity. 

Kohfukuji Temple

I am from a predominantly Muslim country. However, that has never stopped me from adoring Buddhist temples. I love everything associated with Buddhism. I had passed by Kohfukuji Temple a few times before, but this was my first time entering inside and seeing how gorgeous the place truly is.

Kohfukuji is one of Japan’s oldest and most famous Buddhist temples. It’s been around for more than 1,300 years. Visitors can also look out onto the nearby pagoda and the National Treasure Hall when they visit. Still, I strongly recommend buying a combined ticket and taking the opportunity to witness their beauty from the inside as well. 

I was especially intrigued by the National Treasure Hall. It has been consumed by fire five times over the years, but its artifacts have magically survived and can still be observed today. National treasures such as The Ten Great Disciples, Relief Carvings of Twelve Heavenly Generals, and Thousand-Armed Kannon are held in this hall. Because we aren’t allowed to take photos inside, I’m sharing the postcards I bought from the gift shop. 

Chugen Mantaro Lantern Festival

I was in for a treat after visiting the temple, but I didn’t know it yet. After playing with deer and completing my visit, I randomly walked toward a famous shrine. It turned out that the Kasuga Shrine was hosting an event that day called the Chugen Mantaro Lantern Festival. I had never participated in a lantern festival before but, after a quick internal debate, I decided to join in. 

This lantern festival takes place on August 14 and 15 and celebrates Obon, Japan’s season for honoring the dead. The Kasuga Shrine has held this festival every summer for the past 800 years, although it had to be canceled the past two years due to the pandemic. The shrine grounds host over 3,000 lanterns during this two-day period. Visitors can light lanterns and walk through the dark—an eerie but exciting experience.

I also joined a special light-up event for paid visitors around the shrine. I got to observe different types of lanterns and took countless photos. Once again, Nara didn’t cease to amaze me. I returned home exhausted but elated. I don’t know when I will go back, but I know that my “deer” Nara will always welcome me with open arms. 

A deer with an attitude.

Do you like traditional festivals? What festivals do you have in your country?

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  1. kagould17

    We loved Nara, but our tour group did not spend much time there. Maybe next time. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      You’re welcome, Allan. I hope you get to see it alone one day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. leightontravels

    I enjoyed my visit to Nara very much! It is a lovely place to wander around, feed the deer and see its atmospheric shrines, particularly Kasuga-taisha. Participating in a lantern festival in a Japanese shrine sounds like an amazing experience. You are so lucky to have stumbled upon it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bahanur

      I knew I wasn’t the only Nara lover here! What made this adventure even better was its spontaneity indeed 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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