Festival of Lights at Takehara, mini Kyoto



Plumes of steam from bowls of oden, candles flickering in bamboo holders. Welcome to Takehara’s festival of lights. At the end of October, the streets of Takehara’s old town are lit up with bamboo candles, lanterns and lights in a celebration of the Shokei no Michi festival. The festival has a relatively—in a country with some festivals stretching back centuries—short history but it has helped revive interest in the town’s preserved historical district and the distinct local culture of Takehara.

  • Just around noon, the festivities begin, with locals and visitors converging on the old town. It is on those streets that the salt and shipping barons of the Edo built their restrained mansions, and which in recent years have been preserved as part of a conservation area. The atmosphere calls to mind festivals as they must have looked in days gone by, when well-to-do merchants would have spread their wealth, and the common man and pilgrims would have filled the streets. Offer a toast to earlier times with a belt of the local ginjo sake, poured by one of Takehara’s breweries.

    Starting on the left bank of the river, across from the historical district, where vendors and local boosters provide beverages perfect for bracing against the early winter chill in the air. A shot of sake is the perfect way to start the afternoon—either that or a steaming bowl of oden, also being dished up.

    In the approaching dusk, dancers in traditional garb dance down the main drag of the district, followed by school children and other local groups. The festival’s candles are lit in the thousands of bamboo holders that line the streets. The bamboo candle holders are cut from local stalks and their flickering light gives the Edo streets an otherworldly atmosphere as the sun slips below the horizon.

    Savor the chance before things get too hectic and the tripod and DSLR-toting photographers flood in, to fuel up at one of the shops or restaurants in the old district. Unlike other festivals, Shokei no Michi is a bit lighter on street stalls. Murakami Bakery is highly recommended by locals and, apart from being one place in town to pick up a bag of locally-produced salt, they make a mean yakisoba bread loaf.

    Give the darkness a chance to set in. For two nights, the town is transformed as darkness falls. The candles cradled in bamboo holders join a light show that spreads across the old town. As the years have gone by, the festival has grown, and lanterns, lamps and fairy lights are hung all across the old town. The population of the town swells during festival days and there is rare a buzz in the air.

    At the old towns temples and shrines, groups of revelers and the aforementioned DSLR-toting photographers cluster, watching the processions of schoolchildren and enjoying the lights. The two largest temples in the old town are particularly photogenic, the candles and lanterns turning the somber facades into dreamscapes. If there is one time of year to visit Takehara, the festival lights is it!

    Takehara Townscape Preservation Center
    Hiroshima Pref. Takeharashi Honmachi 3-11-7
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