A burning lamp or lantern has a special meaning in Japan. The light helps people overcome the darkness of ignorance. One festival in Nara has more than 3,000 lanterns being lit every year. This is known as “Setsubun Mantoro.” At this time, many celebrations are done all over Japanese shrines.
February 3 marks the transition from winter to spring in Japan. This transition is called “Setsubun.” During this time, 3,000 lanterns are lit at Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara, a Shinto shrine. These lanterns are lit for 3 days. In the olden days, they were lit every day but this is no longer practiced. Most of the lanterns in the past were donated by ordinary people, while others were donated by samurais. They are placed in the garden and some of them are also hung in the corridors. The event, with its beautiful candle light, harkens back to the olden days of Japan before electricity and other modern comforts. The harmony of the shrine and the lanterns is strikingly beautiful. The lanterns also cast a beautiful yet solemn reflection on the river.
During the day of Setsubun, many items relating to ensuring long life are sold, starting in the morning such as beans or good luck charms. Some of these are actually being thrown at you which are part of the ritual. Lanterns can come in a variety of designs with each lantern representing a particular wish. It is not always common to see street food in Japan, but during the event, you can find many stalls selling lots of food from takoyaki to candy-coated strawberries, you name it!
If you are unable to attend the Setsubun Mantoro Festival on February, don’t worry! It will be held again in the month of August from the 14th to 15th.