Nagano Lantern Festival

A temple lit up and hundreds of kiri-e lanterns

By Robert Grey    - 2 min read

In commemoration of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, every February since 2004, Nagano's Zenkoji temple has been lit up in colorful lights, while the main road leading to the temple complex has been decorated with numerous lanterns.  Each lantern boasts four kiri-e images, designed by local artists and students of all ages.  Kiri-e means "cut picture" and is a design in which the artist cuts out a sheet of black paper.  The finished product is backlit with a candle. The designs are nearly unlimited, ranging from the simple to the complex, from literal to abstract.

Walking up the main road, you pass by hundreds of lanterns on display in the road. On some nights, the number of lanterns is increased to include works done by local elementary school kids.  At the end of the lantern display you reach the first gate of Zenkoji, lit up in yellow, followed by the main gate in blue.  The main hall of the temple is lit in firey red in front, purple on its left side and green on the right.  The bell pagoda is also lit up in yellow.

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Robert Grey

Robert Grey @robert.grey

I first came to Japan in 1998, figuring I would be here for a year and then go home.  As it turns out, I never did go home.  I made Nagano my new home, and I now live far from the city in the forested mountains of northern Nagano Prefecture.  I have come to love much about Japan -- the culture, the architecture, the food, the history, the people, but most of all the beutiful natural scenery that everyone can find once they leave the crowded cities.