Japan has no shortage of festivals, especially not in a city with lots of history and culture like Kawagoe. Towards the end of July, the city strings up lanterns and other lights all along the historic Coedo (Kurazukuri) district to celebrate the Million Light Festival (Hyakuman Matsuri – 百万灯 まつり ).
A Brief History of The Million Light Festival
The million light festival started as a way to honor Yamato Matsudaira, the former lord of Kawagoe. People in villages in the surrounding space placed out Kiriko lanterns, large rectangular paper lanterns, outside their front doors in order to honor Yamato, raise the town’s spirits and prestige, and to celebrate a “wonderful lantern festival full of taste.”
The festival was suspended in 1955 but reinstated in 1974, with the festival celebrating, in 1975, the 60th anniversary of the city system for the villages that came together to form Kawagoe. That’s when the festival began to take the shape we see today.
Kawagoe Million Light Festival 2019 (川越 百万灯 まつり)
Every year, there are tons of performances around the historic district, which is pretty close to Hon Kawagoe station, with the large intersection nearby partitioned off to be a large stage and performance area. We saw tons of hip hop and traditional dance, ranging from choreographed sets done against modern remixes of classic songs to slow dances (that looked like Tai Chi) done strictly to instrumental songs.
Festival foods and drinks were everywhere to be seen, with lots of Kawagoe local eateries and delicacies on full display. Dango, sticky rice gluten balls on a stick, grilled, filled the air with its sticky aroma and sweet toppings. Local ramen and soba were available as half portions, which could easily be enjoyed on the street. Tons of grilled meats also sent their smokes billowing up into the air. There’s something magical about Japanese festivals in this way: They all have familiar sights, sounds, and foods, but there are many differences among them that allow each city to set themselves apart from the rest.
One such way was from the local Coedo Brewery, which introduced two new seasonal beers for the festival: Komurasakinokumo, a lavender wheat ale, and Hanataba, a hoppy pale ale. Vendors proudly displayed that they were serving these beers and happy festival goers drank them down with pleasure.
The festival ends around 9 PM on Saturday night and 8 PM on Sunday night, giving just a few brief moments of low-light goodness to see the million lights strung about the city. If you’re in the area and want to see a mixing of classic and modern in a festival setting, I’d highly recommend checking out the Kawagoe Million Light Festival!