No one can really tell you exactly when it was that the Chinese merchants who lived in the bustling port city of Nagasaki began to hang lanterns in China Town celebrating Lunar New Year, but the tradition had been around more than a century by 1994, when the lanterns took over the entire city.
Known today as the Nagasaki Lantern Festival, it takes place over the first two weeks of Lunar New Year and is a winter staple event in the city. With over 15,000 brightly lit and beautifully coloured lanterns adorning Nagasaki, it's easily the largest celebration of its kind throughout Japan —a site you don't want to miss!
The festival also features giant "lantern statues" that are mostly found in China Town, along Spectacles Bridge, and in the local shopping mall. Other festival staples include firework displays, Chinese acrobatics, lion and dragon dance shows, Chinese theatre, "kokyu" performances, an Emperor’s Parade, a Mazu (goddess) Procession, and a ‘Campaign Lady’ (beauty) contest.
Though the luminescent lanterns can be viewed nearly everywhere in Nagasaki, the main features of the event are in China Town, in Minato and Chuo Parks, on Megane-Bashi (Spectacles Bridge), and in Kanko-Dori arcade.
The 2020 Nagasaki Lantern Festival will take place from Jan 24th - Feb 9th. Don't miss out!
Beautiful yellow lanterns adorn the famous Megane-Bashi ("Spectacles Bridge") along the Nakashima River, casting a dazzling reflection in the water below. Built in 1634, Megane-Bashi is said to be the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, and gets its name from its unique arch resembling a pair of spectacles in the reflection of the water. The bridge is recognized as an official Important Cultural Property and is a huge tourism attraction year-round.
Just a few of the 15,000 lanterns hanging all across the city!
Besides the thousands and thousands of beautiful hanging lanterns, there are dozens of lantern statues around the city, including in Nakashima Park, along Megane Bridge, in the local malls, and of course most prominently in the main festival area throughout China Town.
Our group walking down one of the streets of Chinatown toward the main festival area.
Luminescent statues greet you at the entrance to the seating area to watch the stage shows, like the Acrobats as well as the Lion and Dragon Dances.
The Dragon Dance!
The dance is believed to have originated from China as a rain-making ritual to ensure a good harvest. Wearing traditional Chinese clothing, "dancers" call out to the clouds in an attempt to make it rain, as they manipulate the 20 meter (65 ft) long dragon trying to swallow up the moon. The dragon is very heavy and needs at least 10 people to carry it!
The main lantern statue area. Not only does this area have many beautiful lanterns, it's also got loads of vendors selling everything from street food and snacks, to souvenirs, and even photo opportunities with costume-clad warriors and princesses!
Even the local shopping malls and hotels and are in the spirit! (pictured left/top: with our group leader on a wander through one of the local malls).
The 2020 Lantern Festival will take place from Jan 24th - Feb 9th, so don't miss out! It's a great reason to travel to this beautiful port city. For more things to see and do while you're there, be sure to check out my guide, 5 Things To Do In Nagasaki!