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Kyoto’s light festival in Dec – Hanatouro at Arashiyama

Sipping the last of my coffee at a quiet cafe near Jojakko-ji Temple at Arashiyama, the temperature was dipping. I could barely keep warm despite having a heater right beside my table. It has been a long day, starting with an onsen soak at dawn, checking out from Yumotokan ryokan hotel, locating an AirBNB accommodation near Kyoto Station, taking a bus out to Kinkaku-ji and dozing off to the driver’s monotonous voice thanking each passenger as they alighted, and then walking inside the bamboo forest of Arashiyama.

I was actually waiting for 5pm.

Today’s the first night of Kyoto’s light festival – Hanatouro, at Arashiyama.

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

“Lights and Blossoms Pathway”, Hanatouro is a festival that takes place at the Arashiyama district in Kyoto every December (and at the Higashiyama district in March). For about ten days, an approximate 5km route will be lit by open-air lanterns and flower arrangements, places including the bamboo forest, some temples and along historical cultural places of the Saga Arayashiyama area. 

At 5pm, a bell went off somewhere in the distance. I got out of my seat at the cafe and stepped outside, in anticipation of what greets me.

Jojakko-ji Temple (常寂光寺)

The lanterns have been lit.

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

It had rained earlier, and the sky was still threatening with subtle droplets of rain now and then. The ground was wet, those fallen autumn leaves clustered together by moisture. Along this particular stretch of steps at the temple, the lanterns did not light up. Technicians were working out the issue, and finally, the light came on. The small little group of curious onlookers in us, who’d gathered at the foot of the staircase, stood delighted by what had worked out.

It was sheer coincidence that I was in Kyoto on the first evening of this light festival.

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

Towards Bamboo Forest

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

An art installation of dolls & doll paintings:Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (嵐山竹林)

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

There were these giant installations of flower arrangements from Kyoto Ikebana Association.
Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama)Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

Thought I’ll show you the crowd level. There were plenty of people here compared to the afternoon, but being Japan, there was no rowdiness nor noise. Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama)

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessAfter leaving the bamboo forest and coming to the main road, I had no idea where Togetsukyo Bridge was actually, the brochure’s paper map rather useless in my hands because I couldn’t orientate my direction. I simply followed where the crowds seemed to be walking towards. Along the way, there were little shops selling pretty souvenirs.

In the distance, I saw what I was looking for. The hills were lit in classy colors for Hanatouro.

Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

 Togetsukyo Bridge

I took a walk up, crossed the road, then down this bridge, admiring the foothills and their colors. Below the bridge, water was gushing and the wind was strong, I was actually rather terrified (I have a phobia for deep, dark bodies of water). Quickly stabilized my camera on the bridge, took the photos I needed and scurried off. Hanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite WanderessHanatouro (Kyoto Arashiyama) • The Petite Wanderess

It was pretty much darkness elsewhere but thankfully, with the help of Google Maps, I managed to find the train station to walk back to Kyoto Station. It actually wasn’t that late, but the darkness from the early sunrise, tricked me into thinking otherwise.

Hanatouro also happens in March at Higashiyama, which is another district in Kyoto.


Entrance fees: There are no entrance fees for this event. The bamboo forest is free for all to enter. However, there are entrance fees for Jōjakukō-ji Temple.
Location: Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Time: 5pm – 830pm
Visited: Dec 2016
More info: Official site for Hanatouro ArashiyamaOfficial site for Hanatouro Higashiyama

Have you seen Kyoto in such lighting before? Share your experiences with me!

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Kyoto's Hanatouro night festival in Arashiyama

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6 comments

  1. This looks so much more amazing than during the day when I saw it! This is a wonderful reason to go back along with all the other things I want to see and do haha.

    1. To be honest, Megan, I wasn’t too blown away by the bamboo grove during the daytime too. Perhaps my expectations had been set too high after all the Instagram posts of empty, surreal paths, only to get disappointed by what I saw. Only when I saw this festival at night that the forest really comes alive, did I finally appreciate it! It was very magical (plus a bit of creepiness)!

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