Light offerings afloat (tooroo nagashi)

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Light offerings afloat (tooroo nagashi)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Early Autumn
***** Category: Observance


Lantern offerings, lantern offerings on the water, lantern drifting, lantern floating, lantern festival

tooroo nagashi 燈籠流 (とうろうながし)
..... shooryoo nagashi 精霊流し(しょうりょうながし)
ryuutoo 流燈(りゅうとう) ryuutoo e 流燈会(りゅうとうえ)

The Japanese festival for the souls usually takes place at O-Bon in August. It has many traditional acitvities which are all kigo for this season. We will explore those in a different entry.
Here we are concerned with the light offerings during this season.

To send an offering off to the sea, most auspiciously toward the west where the Paradise of the West with the souls of thouse passed away were residing, is an old custom in Japan. In olden times it could happen in Shikoku and other areas to send off boats with living people, mostly monks, and food for three days... on a tour straight to paradise.

One of the popular light offerings is the floating of lanterns, a form of a light offering to the souls. The lanterns represent the souls of the depassed ondes. Usually it is accompanied by a firework display.

Offerings of Light、toomyoo kuyoo 灯明供養

© Photo Gabi Greve

Read more about it here:
. Koyasan Light Offerings - Wakayama .

Other words related to the fire ceremonies during the O-Bon season.

welcome fire, mukaebi, mukae-bi 迎え火
fire at the house corner, gate-fire, kadobi 門火
tama mukae, tamamukae 魂迎え(たまむかえ) welcoming the soul
..... shooryoo mukae 精霊迎え(しょうりょうむかえ)
ogara 苧殻 (おがら) string made from hemp (to light the mukaebi)
..... asagara 麻殻(あさがら)、asagi あさぎ
ogarabi 苧殻火(おがらび)fire lit with hemp string
kababi 樺火(かばび)fire lit with beech wood
tama matsu 魂待つ(たままつ) waiting for the souls
bonbi 盆火(ぼんび) Bon-fire
shooryoobi 精霊火 (しょうろうび) fire for the souls

This is lit on the first day of O-Bon at the entrance of each home to welcome the souls of the ancestors back. In many rural areas it is lit in the middle of the main access road to the farm estate. When a person of the household had died within the last year the ceremonies for the first O-Bon (hatsu-bon) are especially rich and the welcome fire is most important to show him how he is missed.

(Some Internet and other sources quote "okuribi" as "welcome fire", but this is not correct, see below.)


daimonji 大文字 (だいもんじ) Daimonji fire
..... daimonji no hi 大文字の火(だいもんじのひ)
Myoohoo no ni 妙法の火(みょうほうのひ)
funagata no hi 船形の火(ふながたのひ)
toriigata no hi 鳥居形の火(とりいがたのひ)
sebi 施火(せび)


fire for seeing off the souls, send-off fire, okuribi 送り火

This takes place on the last day as a ritual for the family at home and at some places it developed to big festivals, the mosts famous is possibly the

Great seeing-off fire in Kyoto, Daimonji-Yaki 大文字焼き
August 16, at Higashiyama Kyoto
Kyoto Gozan Okuribi 京都五山送り火


Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), more commonly known as Daimonji (大文字), is one of the iconic festivals of Kyoto, Japan. It is the culmination of the O-Bon festival on August 16th, in which five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city. It signifies the moment when the spirits of deceased family members, who have been visiting this world during O-Bon, are believed to be returning to the spirit world — thus the name Okuribi (送り火) (roughly, "send-off fire").

The origins of the festival are obscure, but it is believed to be ancient. Specific families have the hereditary duty of organizing all the logistics of the bonfires, and they spend many hours annually providing volunteer labor to maintain this tradition.

Starting at 8PM, the giant bonfires are lit, each with a distinctive shape. Three of the fires form giant Japanese characters, and two form familiar shapes.

© Read more in the WIKIPEDIA !


This ceremony is also called according to the various forms of the fires. On the below illustration, you can look at them with the Gate on the left, Dai 大 on the right and the others inbetween. They are spread on five mountains (gozan 五山).


Great Left Dai Fire, Sadai 左大 
Fire of the Great Law, Myoohoo no hi 妙法の火
Fire in the form of a gate, toriigata no hi 鳥居形の火
Fire in the form of a boat 舟形の火

This fire is now the bringer of autumn to the Kyoto population. In special parts of the forest large fires are lit, in the form of DAI 大, maybe representing the gread deity Dainichi Nyorai, there are 75 large piles of firewood lit at the same time.
Another fire takes the form of the letter MYOO 妙 (125 piles of wood) and HOO 法 (75 piles), representing the Buddhist teaching. Fires in form of a boat for sending off the souls are also common when these fires offerings are performed in other cities, for example.
The form of a gate (torii)in Kyoto is made of 108 bonfires, where people run up and down the mountain to place the piles of firewood, so it is a kind of "running fire".

Hakone Daimonji-yaki
Nara no Daimonji Okuribi (with 108 piles of firewood) which is now the largest in Japan.


Ceremony of ten thousand lights (mandoo-e 万灯会, 万燈会)
at the Temple Toodai-ji on August 15,
Sentoo Kuyoo 千燈供養

Light Offerings : Koya San in Wakayama


hootooe, hootoo e 奉燈会 (ほうとうえ) light offerings
mandoo e 万燈会(まんどうえ)
yoi Kooboo 宵弘法(よいこうぼう)
at temple Daikaku-ji in Saga, Kyoto 大覚寺
August 20

This is the night before the monthly memorial day of Kobo Daishi.
The lights from the hall reflect beautifully in the great pond before the temple.


108 Fires, hyakuhattai, hyakuhatchitoo 百八燈
On August 15, at Nambu Town, Yamanashi Prefecture


Also called
Fire Festival of Nambu, Nambu no himatsuri 南部の火祭り
108 Pine Torches, hyakuhachi kyoomyoo 百八松明

hyakuhachi tai 百八たい (ひゃくはちたい)
nagetaimatsu 投松明(なげたいまつ)"throwing torches"
nagendei なげんでい

This festival is held as a seeing off for the souls and also to pray for the protection of the rice fields from insects, a form of seeing off the beetles, mushi okuri.
. mushi oi 虫追い(むしおい)seeing off the insects, bugs and beetles  
mushiokuri 虫送り (むしおくり) seing off the bugs
Sanemori matsuri 実盛祭 Sanemori festival
and more KIGO

108 (hyakuhachi) is a symbolic number in Buddhism, representing the 108 illusions (bonnoo 煩悩) of the human mind.

Bonnoo, the worldly desires, a haiku topic           

Worldwide use


Two girls watch one of about a thousand lanterns set afloat in the waters off of Ala Moana Beach near Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii May 30, 2005.
The annual paper lantern floating ceremony called 'Toro Nagashi' is held yearly to honor the dead. The paper lanterns float on a wood or bamboo base and each lantern carries the name of the person being remembered and can also include a special message for the spirit. The lanterns are set afloat to guide the spirits on a safe journey over the ocean to their spiritual home.




in candle light
the path for enlightenment

Bulgan mountain is in Tsetserleg city, where I live. On the 15th of each month by lunar calendar people from Tsetserleg light candles on this mountain.

- Shared by Zaya Nergui -
Joys of Japan, 2012

Things found on the way

Japanese Links with many pictures about the floating lights.
http://www.dicube.co.jp/e-kyoto/gozan_okuri/ !!!



English essay about O-Bon and the Hina Festival.

Safekeep copy is here:


English essay about Okuribi Fires.
There are 3 views about history of Gozan-okuribi. First, Kukai started it in the Heian period. Second, Asikaga Yoshimasa started it in the Muromachi period. Lastly, Konoe Nobutada started it in the Edo period.
Third view is the most popular because it says in a book “annaisha” written in 1662 that Konoe Nobutada started okuribi of daimonji. Anyway it was started in the early modern century. The oldest book about Gozan-okuribi was written in 1603. In 1983 it became an intangible cultural asset. It is a mysterious festival.

Gozan-okuribi is the Bon Festival. Bon is traditional event to pray for the spirits of ancestor. Every year August 16, five mountains are lighted various shapes at night, so this festival is called Gozan-okuribi. Gazan means five mountains. First mountain is Daimonnjiyama part of Higashiyama Nyoigatake in Sakyo ward. Shape of “大” is lighted there. This okuribi is the most famous.

Second, shape of “大” is lighted at Kinkakuji Daimonnjiyama in Kita ward. It is called Hidaridaimonnji. Third, shapes of “妙” and “法” are lighted at Matsugasakinishiyama and Higashiyama in Sakyo ward. Fourth, a picture of gateway at the entrance to a Shinto shrine is lighted at Mandarazan in Ukyo ward. Lastly, a picture of boat is lighted at Nishigamosenzan in Kita ward. This festival is held to see sprits of ancestor the other side. Its beauty make us move of course. It is a religious event and also artistic event.

Japanese Link 日本語:


daimonji senobi suru ko no senaka koshi

Daimonji Fire -
I look over the streched back
of my growing daughter

daimonji no ji no hayaku kie ni keri

Daimonji Fire -
the letter DAI
fades so fast



hito satte mandô kiete shika no koe

people depart
ten thousand lanterns dying...
the cry of a deer

onaji toshi no kao no shiwa miyuru tôro kana

a wrinkled face
he's my age...
lanterns for the dead

kusa tsuru mo waza to sarazaru tooroo kana

even grass and vines
don't part willingly...
lantern for the dead

Kobayashi Issa
(Tr. David Lanoue)


tooroo o mizu ni oku te o nobashikeri

putting the lantern
to water -
I stretch my arms

Suzuki Masajo

ryuutoo ya futatsu no hashi no kakaru machi

lanterns floating -
in this town
there are two bridges

長沼 紫紅

hyakuhachi koomyoo kieshi makkuro no ame no oto

108 pine torches -
they go out and in the dark
the sound of rain


Saijiki for Buddhist Events


送り火をこえてショパンの流れけり  波郷
okuribi o koete shopan no nagare keri

above the sending-off fire
the music of Chopin
floats along

Ishida Hakyo

More haiku about the Bon season are here:

Related words

***** Star Festival (Tanabata, Japan)
There is also a floating of lights during this festival, 七夕流し,tanabata nagashi.


humanity kigo for all summer

CLICK for more photos

soomatoo 走馬燈 (そうまとう)
revolving lamp, revolving lantern

..... mawaridooroo 回り燈籠(まわりどうろう)

They are beautifully decorated and provide a play of light and shade on the wall. They were quite a hobby in the Edo period.

... Light offerings at Koya San in Wakayama


soomatoo tsuki no hikari o yadoshi-keri

revolving lanters
seem to have caught
the moonlight

Kubota Mantaro (Mantaroo) 久保田万太郎
(1889 - 1963)

juunishi mina yami ni nigekomu somatoo

twelve zodiac animals
all escape to darkness
of the revolving lantern

Kuroda Momoko 黒田杏子
. Tr. Fay Aoyagi

. . . . . . . . . .

suikajoochin 西瓜提燈 (すいかぢょうちん / 西瓜提灯)
watermelon lanterns

Similar to the pumpkin lanterns for Haloween.


- Lichtopfer -

. . . . . TEXT
Buddhistische Kultgegenstände Japans


. tooroo uri 燈籠売(vendor for Bon-lanterns .




WKD .. Facebook said...

fireflies, tonight's
Obon lanterns, carry
her to the Pure Land

Mark Snyder
WKD .. Facebook

anonymous said...

juunishi mina yami ni nigekomu soomatoo

the 12 zodiac animals
all flee into the dark ...
revolving lamp

Kuroda Momoko 黒田杏子

soomatoo is used for the obon ceremonies.

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

ogara 苧殻 (おがら) string made from hemp (to light the mukaebi)

kanashisa ya ogara no hashi mo otona nami

such sadness -
even the ogara chopsticks
the size for a grown-up

. Hirose Izen 広瀬維然 . ( ? - 1711)

and the KAPPA water goblin

ogara uru kappa kisoo na numa no mise

a store at the swamp
just like made for a Kappa
to sell ogara hemp

Machida Shigeki 町田しげき

MORE about the kappa eating with ogara chopsticks . . .

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

okuribi ya ima ni warera mo ano toori

This hokku is from the early autumn of 1827, probably in the seventh month, when Issa was resting at a hot springs run by one of his students after his house burned down in a fire that destroyed much of his hometown at the beginning of the previous month. In the hokku Issa refers to the Bon Festival or Festival of Returning Souls that takes place in August, early in lunar autumn: on the evening of 7/13 the souls of the recent dead are greeted at their grave sites and guided back to their former homes by their living descendants. After three days of eating, praying, and doing Buddhist dancing together with the returned souls, the living send the souls off to the other world on the evening of 7/16. Each house that has a visiting soul (or souls) lights a small fire on its front porch to send off the soul, and the soul follows a series of fires that have been placed along the route between the village and the graveyard. Often family members carrying lanterns accompany the soul back to its grave, and from there it returns to the other world.

As Issa watched the fires seeing off the dead souls at the Bon Festival in 1827, he was feeling weak, and he often had to hire a palanquin in order to travel around, so he must have felt that he would not live much longer. He returned to his hometown in the ninth month and lived with his third wife in a refurbished storehouse in the back yard that remained unharmed by the fire. On lunar 11/19, however, he suddenly suffered a stroke and soon died after managing to say the name of Amida Buddha. This was January 5, 1828 on the Gregorian calendar.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve said...

Kobayashi Issa

hakimono no yōjin-gatera tōro kana

while looking after after
people's shoes the lantern
greets souls of ancestors

This hokku was written in early lunar autumn in the seventh lunar month (August) of 1822, when Issa was at home in his hometown during O-Bon (also Tama-matsuri), the Festival of Returning Souls. Generally, lanterns were lit either on the night of 7/13 or on 7/14, and many people guided their recent ancestors' souls from their graves on the slope of a mountain to their house, following lanterns placed at crossroads, at the beginning of the front walkway, and at the front door of their house. Some people also hung lanterns from tree branches or poles near their house in order to guide and greet their ancestors' souls. During the three days of the festival many sutras were read, ceremonies to feed hungry ghosts were held, and various kinds of Bon dances were danced, including Nembutsu dances during which Amida Buddha's name was sung in order to make him happy. During the dances the living were said to dance with their invisible ancestors' souls, so there was a great deal of loud music, fun, and even erotic hanky-panky done to please and amuse the ancestors -- and the living. Since the other world was believed to be the reverse of this world, many dancers cross-dressed, with some men dressed as beautiful women and some women dressed as samurai or as attractive young men. Finally the prayers and good times came to an end on 7/16, when people lit more lanterns and sent off their ancestors' souls, sometimes to the mountains and sometimes by floating the lanterns off on tiny rafts onto a stream, river, or even the ocean. The greeting and reception of the souls was done with special care if someone in your family had died within the last year.

Issa seems to have placed a standing lamp near the entranceway in his house in ordinary times, somewhere near the place where the dirt-floor entryway stopped and the raised smooth board floor of the house began. Issa wasn't all that sure-footed, and sometimes he drank a fair amount, so the lamp probably allowed him to better see where his shoes were and to go in and out of the house more easily. The hokku evokes the time of the Festival of Returning souls, so his front door would be open and a greeting lamp to guide and greet the souls would be placed just outside the door. However, the hokku indicates that he also uses the same lamp -- perhaps one specially decorated with a lotus -- for shoe-watching purposes, so perhaps he places the lantern just inside the door, or he might have hung the lantern from the doorframe. In 1822 Issa had guests every day during the festival, so it must have been a chore to keep everyone's shoes together and separate from the other shoes. Issa seems to regard the lantern as a member of his family, and his hokku praises the lantern for doing two difficult jobs at once: it not only shines carefully for the ancestors, but at the same time it has to keep track of all the shoes in the entryway and show with its light where every shoe is placed. The hokku seems to be a thankful pat on the back for the exhausted lantern.

For -gatera in the second line, see Issa hokku sōsakuin 122.

Chris Drake

Gabi Greve said...

Larry Bole wrote :
moesakari fudebuto to naru daimonji

Bonfire at its height,
the kanji "Great" is written
with a stubby brush.

--Seishi (1901-1994), trans. Takashi Kodaira & Alfred H. Marks,
from "The Essence of Modern Haiku: 300 Poems by Seishi Yamaguchi." The haiku was composed in 1969. Seishi's comment: "The festival of the character "Great" in Kyoto. It is featured by a tremendous bonfire to accompany the spirits of the dead . When the burning begins, the character has the shape ordinarily given it by a brush, but when the fire is at its height, it has a swollen look, as if the brush has lost its tip."

Translators' note:
'fude' = "writing brush," and 'buto' is from 'futoi' ("thick/fat"), so 'fudebuto' to naru' is literally "become thick-brushed" --referring to a character whose lines are fat and run together because the brush has lost its point.