Obon is the Japanese festival of the dead, a time in mid-summer when people, solid and incorporeal, return to their homes. Living family members clean the grave stones of the passed, and special ceremonies are held to mark the first obon after a loved one’s death.
Despite the somber sounding overtones, Obon is often celebrated in energetic festival style, from the Awa Odori dance festival on Tokushima, which attracts 3 million visitors annually, to Kyoto’s burning Daimonji, one of the biggest events in the seasonal calendar.
Fire and light are characteristics of many obon celebrations. Lanterns are strung over roads, or set to float down streams, symbolic of souls and carrying wishes from the living watching on the banks.
From August 3rd until the 5th, Taga Taisha shrine holds a gorgeous, overwhelmingly large, thousand lights lantern festival. (多賀大社 万灯祭 （まんとうさい））.
Unsurprisingly, the 1000 lights festival is quite popular and the whole town gets into the spirit. From Taga Taisha-mae station, the houses and shops along the route had their own pyramid shaped displays, no doubt hoping to attract some of the crowd.
There are two entrances to the festival. Walking from the station’s direction, I entered through the shrine’s small car park and followed the lines of lanterns. I walked past festival food-stall alleys, past a Chindonya band in their Edo era regalia who looked a bit like the one-man band from Mary Poppins, and pushed into an ever thickening crowd of yukata clad women and children, only slightly outnumbered by serious photographer types carrying tripods and step-stools.
Taga-Taisha 1000 lights Festival: August 3rd – 5th. Free entry.
From Hikone Station (Japan Rail) take the Ohmi line (Ohmi Railway) to Taga Taisha-mae station. The final night hosts the biggest celebration with a full kabuki play under the lights.