Mark your calendars for August 12, 2023, as Tokyo’s much-loved Asakusa Toro Nagashi, the Lantern Floating Ceremony, returns after a four-year hiatus. The warmth of the summer will be lit up by thousands of glowing lanterns adorning the Sumida River, adding an enchanting allure to the bustling cityscape.
If you’re planning a trip to Tokyo in August 2023, this magical spectacle is an unmissable part of the city’s ancient traditions.
What is Toro Nagashi?
Toro Nagashi is a traditional Japanese ceremony in which paper lanterns, or toro, are released onto a river. This ceremony serves as a way to honor the spirits of ancestors during the Obon season — a Buddhist custom that believes spirits return to this world during Obon to visit their relatives.
Asakusa Toro Nagashi 2023
The 2023 Asakusa Toro Nagashi is set to take place along the Sumida River, from Azuma Bridge to Kototoi Bridge, between 18:45 and 20:00 on August 12th. The riverside promenade will be transformed into a magical sight as the lanterns float gently downstream.
Important note: The lantern pre-sale has ended, and sales after August 3rd will be on-site at the Asakusa Tourism Federation Office until August 10th. You can also buy lanterns at the venue from 2 pm on the day, but be prepared for a possible crowd!
If you want to buy lanterns in person at the federation office, it’s open from 10:30 to 17:00 on weekdays. The address is Taito-ku Asakusa 1-34-7-3F (the cafe Potenoki is on the 1st floor). Please note that there is no elevator, so you’ll need to climb the stairs.
Participate in the Ceremony
On the day of the event, after purchasing your lantern, you can head to a designated underground gallery to write the name of your loved ones or your wishes on the lantern. There will be staff present who will help ignite the lantern before you release it onto the floating platform.
Do remember, Toro Nagashi is not just about the visual spectacle, it’s also an emotional journey. As you watch your lantern float away, you’ll feel a sense of connection to those who’ve passed on and those still here — a truly moving experience that will stay with you long after the last lantern has floated out of sight.
Participation in the 2023 Event
Advance Purchase of Lanterns
It’s highly recommended to purchase your lanterns in advance for the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi. On the day of the event, lanterns are sold at a specially erected tent near the entrance of Sumida Park, located at the west end of Azuma Bridge. However, the lanterns are limited in number, so those planning to purchase on the day are advised to do so early.
On top of that pre-purchase is also possible through the official website. This not only avoids the crowd at the time of purchase but also allows you to assemble the lantern carefully at home.
Popularity of the Lantern Floating Cruise
Every year on the day of the event, the “Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi Cruise” is also operated. The boarding location is approximately a 1-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, making it highly accessible.
The cruise typically utilizes large ships like “Doguan”. Lanterns and pens are prepared on board, so there’s no need for any pre-preparation. After departing from the Asakusa boarding point, the ship anchors in the middle of the river between Azuma Bridge and Tobu Railway Bridge, where lanterns are released from the rear deck of the ship using a special slope.
Unlike a regular cruise, the ship remains anchored after the lanterns are released, allowing passengers to bask in the mesmerizing view. As this cruise event is popular every year, early reservations are recommended.
Event Details for the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi Cruise
Date and Time: Typically on the day of the event in mid-August Note: As of July 31, 2023, the operation for 2023 is yet to be decided. Reservations can be made from the official website.
Note for Participants from Sumida Ward
This event is a joint effort between Sumida Ward and Taito Ward’s Asakusa, hence the reception for each area is different.
For those who wish to float their lanterns from Sumida Ward, the ward prepares around 1,000 lanterns each year. As the quantity is limited, it is recommended to pre-purchase at facilities within Sumida Ward such as “aday in SUMIDA” or the “Ryogoku Tourist Information Center”.
Details for the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi (Sumida Ward)
Date: August 12, 2023 (Saturday), same day as Asakusa
Time: On-the-day sales & reception from 15:00, Ceremony and initial floating from 18:30, Lantern floating from 18:45 to 20:15
Venue: Uruoi Plaza in front of Sumida Ward Office
Price: 1,500 yen per lantern
Origins of the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi
For a tradition steeped in history, there are few events that compare to the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi, a lantern floating ceremony held mid-August every year. In this cherished event, lanterns are floated down the Sumida River as a way of commemorating the spirits of ancestors during the Obon season. This communal observance originated as a form of solace for the souls lost in the Sumida River during the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Tokyo Air Raids.
First Occurrences and Historical Significance
The first ceremony of the sort was held in Asakusa in 1946 as part of a post-war reconstruction festival. Mourning family members lined up along the banks of the Sumida River to float their lanterns, a practice that continues to this day with approximately 3,000 lanterns floated each year.
Originally, the ceremony drew large crowds and was often covered by international news outlets. Along With the lantern floating, the event featured fireworks and performances by the fire department, turning it into a bustling and vibrant occasion.
Discontinuation and Revival
However, due to the construction of flood control banks along the Sumida River, the event was discontinued in 1965. Four decades later, in 2005, the Asakusa Tourism Federation revived the event, renaming it “Ryuto-kai” or the “Lantern Floating Association.” Following the development of waterfront terraces and slopes along the Sumida River, the festival became a prominent feature of the Asakusa summer calendar.
Since 2018, the event has been held as a joint project between Sumida Ward and Taito Ward, with the main venue being the banks of the Sumida River. It continues to attract numerous locals and travelers alike, turning the riverbanks into a lively hub.
The festival planned for August 13, 2022, was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, on August 12, 2023, the event resumed, once again illuminating the night sky of Asakusa.
Experiencing the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi
Taking part in the Sumidagawa Toro Nagashi is an enchanting experience, a wonderful combination of peace and tranquility, sadness and joy, past and present. It is a moment to connect with the history of the land, to remember the lives lost, and to celebrate the endurance of tradition, even in the face of calamity.