Nestled along the historic Kiso Road, part of the esteemed "Five Routes" from the Edo era, the enchanting Ice Candle Festival lights up the winter months of January and February. Here, locals from each post town craft ice candles and bamboo lanterns by hand, casting a warm glow over the chilly evenings of the Kiso Road. With each town hosting its own unique celebration, Narai-juku in Nagano Prefecture stands out.
- Ice candles at doorsteps on the eve of the beginning of spring
This quintessential town, once a bustling post station on the Nakasendo trail linking Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo), comes alive on February 3rd from 18:30 to 20:00. On this magical evening, thousands of ice candles transform Narai-juku into a scene straight out of a fairy tale, with its ancient streets bathed in a soft, ethereal light.
- Unique handmade candles in various shapes and sizes
The festival not only showcases ice-crafted luminaries and snow sculptures but also envelops the town in a tranquil, picturesque beauty. It's a moment when history and romance intertwine, drawing visitors from far and wide to revel in its captivating allure and warmth on the eve of spring's arrival. This tradition sees the townsfolk gather to create ice candles, illuminating the path to the new season with a heartfelt gesture that brightens the long winter nights.
Walking Through a Candle-Lit Path
- Candles add to the charm of these ancient streets
Stepping into Narai-juku during a crisp winter evening, you're greeted by the distinctive crispness and tranquility that only winter can bring. The historic facades along the streets take on a quiet majesty under the fading light of dusk. As darkness envelops the town, a captivating transformation unfolds—thousands of ice candles begin to flicker to life, casting the cobblestone paths in a luminous glow reminiscent of a mythical realm.
- Candles provide warmth to the many attendees
These artisanal ice candles, set before the timeworn wooden architecture, radiate a gentle, inviting light through their frosty shells. Each flame not only illuminates the way but also seems to whisper tales from bygone eras, inviting onlookers into a deeper journey through the town's storied past.
A Gift from Adults to Children
- Parade of Lights involving children
The Ice Candle Festival in Narai-juku is an event of enchanting beauty, highlighted by the thousands of handmade ice candles and a mesmerizing "Parade of Lights" featuring the town's younger residents. As the festivities commence, an adult with a traditional lantern leads the way, followed by children and students carrying lanterns crafted with their parents' assistance. They meander through the magical ambiance created by ice lanterns, their path illuminated by the soft glow.
- Children happily advancing with lanterns
The quiet of the night is punctuated by lively music, signaling the approach of the parade. Participants, ranging from local kindergarteners to middle schoolers, carry their lanterns with pride, their faces alight with smiles, their movements full of energy as they jump and sing. Their joy is contagious, spreading happiness among all who watch. The parade, starting from the tourist information center and ending at the community center, is met with applause and laughter, creating a bond among the spectators.
- Sweet soup being distributed by volunteers
At the community center, attendees are greeted with sweet soup, a symbol of health and peace, followed by the traditional Setsubun bean-throwing ceremony to ward off evil spirits and usher in good fortune for the year ahead. The night's ambiance reaches its peak with a stunning fireworks display, creating a floral spectacle in the sky. The vibrant fireworks, in harmony with the glow of ice candles below, mark a perfect conclusion to this extraordinary evening.
- Bean-throwing ceremony
This festival not only highlights Narai-juku's traditional charm but also fosters a sense of warmth and community unity on a chilly winter night. It's more than just a celebration; it's a fairy tale crafted by adults for the delight of children, leaving behind a trail of warm hearts and cherished memories as the night draws to a close.
- Fireworks display
Indeed, Narai-juku is recognized not only for its evening Ice Candle Festival but also for its daytime street atmosphere, acclaimed to be more Kyoto-like than Kyoto itself. You can read more about it here.
Getting to Narai-juku is convenient by train or by car. For those driving, it is recommended to use the nearest parking lots, such as the Kiso-no-Ohashi Parking Lot (free) or the Gonbei Parking Lot. However, it's important to note that parking spaces may be very crowded on the day of the event, so arriving early or using public transportation is advised. For those taking the JR Chuo Main Line, disembark at Narai Station, and from there, it's approximately a 3-minute walk to the event location.
The event is free of charge.
For specific details about the Ice Candle Festival, including schedules, activities, and any updates or changes, visiting the official website: https://www.naraijuku.com/event/
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