The Nagasaki Lantern Festival: A Cultural Display

Every year, Nagasaki, Japan hosts one of the most illuminating events in the country – The Nagasaki Lantern Festival. The festival is rooted in Chinese tradition and celebrates the Lunar New Year, symbolizing hope, prosperity, and the coming of spring.


Nagasaki Lantern Festival Origins

The festival’s origins are traced back to the Chinese immigrants who settled in Nagasaki centuries ago, bringing with them their customs and traditions.

In the 15th century, Nagasaki served as a gateway for trade between Japan and China, fostering cultural exchange and diversity.

The Nagasaki Lantern Festival began as a traditional celebration of the Chinese New Year. Over time, the festival evolved, blending Chinese and Japanese influences into a unique cultural extravaganza.

Chinese Style Lanterns Hanging over Megane Bridge

Chinese Style Lanterns Hanging over the Historical Megane Bridge

This tradition has been upheld by the city’s Chinese community for over four centuries. Impressively, the festival has evolved into a huge public event that adorns Nagasaki with over 15,000 lanterns each year.

Tradition says that the lanterns ward off evil spirits and symbolize good fortune. Additionally, it’s believed that the light from the lanterns guide ancestral spirits on their annual trip home.

A Visual Feast

Visitors to the festival are greeted by a breathtaking display of intricate lanterns adorning the streets and parks. Skilled artisans craft the lanterns that depict traditional Chinese motifs, mythical creatures, and zodiac symbols.

Cultural Significance

The festival holds deep cultural significance for the people of Nagasaki. It serves as a symbol of unity and harmony, bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate their shared heritage.

The festival also pays homage to the city’s resilience in the face of adversity, particularly its recovery from the atomic bombing during World War II.

What to See

First on your list should be the main attraction—the lantern displays. Many are refined works of art portraying scenes from Chinese folklore and mythology.

Chinese Style Lanterns Hanging over Megane Bridge

Masoud Akbari | CC BY-SA 3.0 | Wikimedia Commons

The highlights are the Kotei-gyoretsu (parade of the Chinese emperor) and the Maso-gyoretsu (parade of the goddess of voyages).

2024 Parade Schedule:

  • February 11: 1:00 pm-3:45 pm
  • February 18: 1:15 pm-4:00 pm
  • February 24: 2:00 pm-4:30 pm

Lantern Festival Map

Lantern Festival Map | Nagasaki Official Tourism Website

You should also check out the live performances in Chinatown (Chukagai in Japanese), Chuo Park, and Koshi-byo. They can range from dragon dances to Chinese opera. You can also find some traditional Japanese music emanating from hidden corners of the streets.

Festival Eats

Food also plays a significant role in this, and all, festivals in Japan. An array of food stalls, dot the city during the event. They offer a variety of mouth-watering Chinese and Japanese dishes.

Getting to the Nagasaki Lantern Festival

Getting to the Nagasaki lantern festival from JR Nagasaki Station is pretty straight forward.

Go out the East Exit toward Nagasaki-eki-mae Tramway Station. Then catch the Tramway Line 1 street car toward Sofukuji Temple. Take the street car up 4 stops, about a 7 minute ride, to Shinichi Chukagai.

Want a Unique Japan Trip?

Discover Japan planning secrets with our best-selling Itinerary Planning Course. Or inquire about our exclusive Small Group Tours.

Final Thoughts

The Nagasaki Lantern Festival is an unforgettable cultural experience and a testament to the city’s historic ties with China. Come enjoy the warm glow of thousands of lanterns and feel the excitement of this special event.