Katsuyama’s Akari Matsuri (literally, “Lighting Festival”) takes place in the city in late summer, usually around the Bon Festival, and is centered on the Honmachi neighborhood around the Kagetsuro building and Oshozu. Lanterns are lined up along the walkways and alleys of the city, turning the old town into a fantasy land. Locals and visitors to the city join together to appreciate the unique atmosphere in Katsuyama’s old town.
The four night festival has kicked off in recent years with the Kacchama Music Festival, an outdoor concert and folk festival held at Benten Ryokuchi Park, a green space along the Kuzuryu River. The streets east of the river, in Honmachi, are decorated with lanterns that light up the historic neighborhood from dusk. Nowadays, it’s LED lights in the screens rather than candles, but the effect is not compromised. The streets are full of revelers strolling the alleys with snacks and drinks, appreciating the lights.
Events are centered on the Kagetsuro building. The two-story townhouse was once the home of a mighty textile dynasty, the Nakamura family. Over a century old, the house was expanded by the Nakamura clan over the years. In 2011, a project was undertaken to resurrect the building, and it was registered as a Tangible Cultural Property. The old Nakamura home has been reborn as a restaurant, with simple fare served on the first floor and more refined kaiseki on the second. In the city’s heyday as a center of textile manufacturing, the Nakamura family would have hosted the city’s powerful families for elegant get-togethers—now, the hoi polloi can appreciate the palatial dwelling. The Akari Matsuri is the perfect time to visit the historic building’s dining rooms.
Not only are the lanterns beautiful, but it’s a good time to people watch, and appreciate the community that keeps traditions like the Akari Matsuri alive. Walking from Kagetsuro over to the temple at Sonkoji, time feels as if it’s stood still in this old quarter of Katsuyama. The walk from Kagetsuro to the temple takes about five minutes and traces through Honmachi, the prettiest and oldest part of town, defined by its neat canals and waterways.
Sonkoji’s courtyard looks particularly magical lit up for the Akari Matsuri, and decorated with traditional parasols. This part of the city is one of the oldest quarters of Katsuyama, hugging the Kuzuryu River. The festival runs for four short nights and closes with a Children’s Light Festival where the streets are full of kids taking part of events to mark the festival. The final night is always the liveliest of the four night festival.
The easiest route to navigate the festival is to start at Katsuyama Station on the west side of the Kuzuryu River and cross over through the Benten Ryokuchi Park. Lanterns will light your way through the Honmachi neighborhood to Oshozu, Jokyo Temple and Kagetsuro where locals and visitors gather along the canal that runs up to Inaridaimyo Shrine. After that, head back toward Sonkoji to the south, and back into town.