A Magical Kyoto Hanatouro Night

Kyoto Boken

One of the most magical and ethereal sights in Kyoto has returned for another year. Hanatouro (literally “flower light path”) started on March 12 in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto, and will run through to March 21. Meander the ancient back streets of Kyoto along lantern-lit paths in this (mostly) free event.

Lamps at Hanatouro
Photo by Musakoni used under CC

Each year in the cooler months, the Arashiyama and Higashiyama districts of Kyoto hold special night-time illumination events under the collective name of Hanatouro. Arashiyama’s Hanatouro was last held in December. This March, it’s Higashiyama’s turn. This area is already known for many World Heritage temples and charismatic, narrow streets that have maintained their traditional styles. These streets are lit up with (eco-friendly!) lanterns, and many temples and shrines themselves are illuminated in the evenings. Round this out with numerous light and art installations, along with many artistic performances, and you have a magical evening in already atmospheric Kyoto.

A closeup of lanterns at Hanatouro
Photo by Yousuke used under CC

The Lanterns

Small ground lanterns are the key feature of this event (and its namesake). When lined up along the narrow paved streets, they create a beautiful ambiance that makes for a perfect romantic scroll. Some 2500 lanterns line over five kilometres of Higashiyama’s streets, starting from Aokusu Park north of Shoren-in, tracing a route down to Chawan-zaka, the shopping street that leads to Kiyomizu-dera. The lanterns are lit using LED bulbs, making the event environmentally friendly.

In Maruyama Park, behind Yasaka Shrine, more traditional bamboo lanterns will line a stream. The sight has been described as “other-worldly”. The park also features giant lanterns—each four metres high—from the nearby Awata Shrine. These lanterns are usually used as part of the Awata Shrine festival each autumn.

Walking through the streets and the park is free.

The Installations

Light installations and the traditional flower-arrangement art of ikebana also feature during Hanatouro. Students from various art universities in Kyoto have created light installations that are dotted along the lantern paths. These are accompanied by large ikebana displays, both traditional and contemporary.

You can also contribute to the light installations, by drawing a lantern design on special paper, which can then be displayed to the public. This activity is limited to the first 100 people to take part each night, at a cost of 500 yen. If you don’t want to draw an entire lantern, you can just write a wish on a flower-shaped seal, which is then attached to large lanterns (like tying your Tanabata wish to a bamboo tree).

A temple gate illuinated during Hanatouro
Photo by Yousuke used under CC

The Illuminations

It’s not just the streets of Higashiyama that get the light treatment. Many temples and shrines will also be lit up to show off their architectural designs and give a sense of power. Unlike the rest of Hanatouro, though, a small fee is charged for entrance to these shrines and temples. That includes the normally free Yasaka Shrine. But many of the lit-up buildings, like Yasaka Pagoda, and the main gate of Kiyomizu-dera, can be seen without entering the grounds.

Many of the temples and shrines offer additional exhibitions, or special openings, along with the illuminations. For example, Yasaka Shrine will have a dance performance by maiko, apprentice geisha, on weekends.

The temples and shrines that are lit up this Hanatouro are:

  • Shoren-in (800 yen)
  • Chion-in (500 yen)
  • Yasaka Shrine (500 yen)
  • Entoku-in (500 yen)
  • Kodai-ji (600 yen)
  • Hokan-ji, including Yasaka pagoda (400 yen)
  • Kiyomizu-dera (400 yen)

The Performances

Along with the maiko dance at Yasaka Shrine, Hanatouro features some other traditional parades and performances. The most unique of these is the Fox Wedding Procession, which traditionally is considered a sign of good fortune. Wish the bride well as she rolls past in a rickshaw.

Local children also uphold old traditions in Hanatouro, by walking along the lantern paths while striking wooden clappers, reminding us all to beware of fire.

A lantern
Photo by Yousuke used under CC

Kyoto Higashiyama’s Hanatouro illuminations run every night, in any weather, between March 12 and March 21. Lights turn on at 6:00 p.m. and end at 9:30 p.m. An official website has more information about the event in English, including detailed maps, times, and costs.

The event attracts big crowds every year, especially on weekends, but the beauty of the lanterns in the old streets will cast Kyoto in a new light, and is not to be missed.

Location Map:

Name: Kyoto Higashiyama Hanatouro
Pricing info: Free to wander around | Some temples and shrines charge admission
Location(s): Kyoto,
Access: Higashiyama Station on the Kyoto City Subway Tozai Line | Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Kyoto Line| Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line
Web: http://www.hanatouro.jp/e/higashiyama/index.html
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