On Saturday evening, as part of Obon, we walked down the river to see the release of about 2,500 floating candle-lit lanterns.
Japan Times described the event as:
A hauntingly beautiful sight, the peaceful custom is a gesture of respect for those who have passed away and gives participants a moment to think about their ancestors, loved ones or even past pets.
It is easy to imagine that thousands of floating lanterns would be a peaceful sight, but the event wasn’t really like that. When we arrived there were thousands of people in Asakusa. I had expected things to be more sombre but the atmosphere was much more relaxed with a party feel. If you planned to release a lantern you had to queue for quite a while as they were released one at a time down what looked like a mini aqueduct.
Releasing the Lanterns on the Sumida River
We never got to see large number of lanterns on the river but it was still beautiful and I found the event fascinating and would certainly go to see it again.
Lanterns on the Sumida River
The best viewing point for the event is on the Azuma-bashi Bridge and after watching the release of the lanterns we considered joining the crowds there. Once we got closer we released that people were only watching the lanterns approach the bridge and that the other side of the bridge was mostly empty. We went to the empty side as we assumed that we could watch the lanterns continue on down the river towards the sea. But no, there were very few lanterns there. In hindsight it made sense that these lanterns would be considered rubbish that would pollute the river but it was a little shocking to see groups of people in speedboats catching the lanterns in nets and putting them out.