Toro Nagashi (Floating Lanterns Down a River) (灯籠流し)

"Toro Nagashi" which is also referred to as "Shoryo Nagashi" (floating lanterns down a river carrying the spirits of the dead) is a Japanese festival where people hold a memorial service for the spirits of the deceased by floating paper lanterns and other offerings in a river or in the sea for Bon festivals. The term is written in kanji (Chinese characters) as either "灯籠 流し"or "灯篭流し."

Generally speaking, it is a kind of okuribi event (ceremonial bonfire to send off spirits of the dead) held in Bon season. However, the events of Toro Nagashi are not performed simultaneously in Japan because the time of Bon festival is interpreted differently depending on region, and, in some cases, the event may be held as a special memorial service for particular persons from the past. Also, there are many localities where people do not celebrate any Toro Nagashi. A similarity is pointed out between the events of Toro Nagashi and Nagashibina (floating hina dolls down a river) the latter being regarded as an origin of Hinamatsuri (Dolls' Festival).

Due to the problem of contamination of the sea and rivers, lanterns are recently not so often floated directly as in the past. Some local governments prohibit any discharge of lanterns and other objects into the sea and river. In such a case, people must either collect the floated lanterns at a downstream area of the river or gather them together on a dry river bed or seashore. But, quite often, people leave them floating away because of costs for collection.

"Shoro Nagashi" in Nagasaki Prefecture is a kind of flashy festival but is much showy compared with those of the other areas.
This "Shoro Nagashi" became popular among the people through a folk song "Shoro Nagashi" composed by Masashi SADA and sung by his duo "Grape"; with the words of song as "… anata wo Wasurenai …" ("never forget you ….")

Major festivals of floating lanterns in the world;
Exhibition of Fireworks during the Toro Nagashi Festival in Miyazu (Japan)
Exhibition of Fireworks during the Toro Nagashi Festival held in Arashi-yama, Kyoto (Japan)
Toro Nagashi Ceremony as a Memorial Service for Atomic Bomb Victims in Hiroshima (Japan)
Toro Nagashi Ceremony as a Memorial Service for Victims of air raids on Nagaoka (Nagaoka Festival) (Japan)

Puja (India)
At a riverside sanctuary such as Varanasi (Banaras), a ceremony of floating lanterns, called "Puja" ("memorial service" in Sanskrit), is performed every night. In this Puja ceremony, people float down the Ganges River various miniature boats made of leaves or flowers, loaded with candles, flowers, and so on.

Loy Krathong (Thailand)
This is an annual festival held in Thailand on the day of full moon in December under the lunar calendar. In this Loy Krathong festival, people float lanterns in rivers and ponds to express their gratitude and apology to the deities of the river or pond. Those lanterns were originally made of leaves of banana, but recently many of them are made of breads in consideration of the environment. The inside of a lantern, decorated with pretty blooms, is equipped with candles and incense sticks and also contains chips of human hairs and nails of each participant.

These days, young couples use this festival to assure their mutual love by floating lanterns together. Especially, the festival in Sukhothai is most outstanding. Among various events performed in this Loy Krathong festival, particularly well known is a beauty contest.

[Original Japanese]