Kyoto’s giant fire festival, Daimon-ji, is well known. Thousands come from across Japan on August 16th to see the five, massive bonfire kanji lit on the mountains surrounding the city, and to celebrate the end of the O-bon festival period. Less well known is the lantern festival, called Toro Nagashi (灯篭流し祭り), held in Arashiyama on the same night, where hundreds of candle burning lights are put out onto the calm waters of Hirozawa pond, and where visitors, in their dinky rental rowboats, can go out with them.
The best part for those keen to enjoy both festivals, is that you can! The Daimon-ji symbol of the Torii gate is easily visible from Hirozawa, and perhaps given a clearer view when seen from across the dark waters. So much more preferable to being in a tightly, packed crowd, quietly rowing a boat through a inky nightscape while brightly coloured lanterns float past. The atmosphere is mystical, serene – far removed from the sweat and press along the river banks. As Ratty notes in Wind in the Willows, ‘There is nothing, absolutely nothing so much worth doing as messing around in boats.’
As the Daimon-ji fires on the hills wink out, and the clean-up crews start their work at Hirozawa, all the boats make their reluctant way back to the dock. Just when it seems like one knows all the wonders of Kyoto, and has enjoyed every facet of a summer festival, along comes the chance to drift with the evening breezes in a pond full of candles. Awesome experience indeed.
Toro Nagashi Festival (灯篭流し祭り), August 16th from 7pm, Hirozawa pond (広沢池), Arashiyama, Kyoto. Access on foot is a 20 minute walk from Saga-Arashiyama station. Keep walking along the main edge of the pond to find the boat rental shed. Boat rental was 600 yen per hour (per boat, not person) this year, but seems to increase by 100 yen each year so might be more expensive in future. While there are a decent amount of boats available, it is probably advisable to arrive around 7pm, and rent a boat for 2 hours in order to enjoy both the lanterns and Daimonji.