Of Flowers and Lanterns: The Zama Sunflower Festival & Asakusa Tōrō Nagashi


Summer is sizzling in Tokyo and the heat is just unbearable. You’d think that because I’m from the Philippines I’d  be immune to the summer heat, right? Not quite. Japanese summer is just way too humid for my liking.

So what’s the most sensible thing to do during this season? Well, you can either surrender to the heat and laze about, or attempt to beat it by going out and having fun. I obviously opted for the latter, and so here’s a rundown of two summer events I went to: the Zama Sunflower Festival and the Asakusa Tōrō Nagashi.

The Zama Sunflower Festival, as it name suggests, is held in Zama, a city in Kanagawa Prefecture. I live in the northern end of Tokyo, so Zama was around two hours away me. I took a train and got off Sobudaimae station, where you could take a shuttle to the sunflower fields. The shuttle was completely packed and it was already exhausting at that point, but once we got off the bus, it was all worth it.

The Zama Sunflower Festival is held every year, with the sunflowers peaking at midsummer. I was interested to know whether there was a Japanese myth behind sunflowers, but the search for that lead me back to the Greek myth. If you’re not familiar to it, it tells of a girl named Clytie who once loved the sun god Apollo. He returned her feelings at one point, but his passion was fleeting and he eventually left her. The poor girl longed for him and waited for him to come back, so she watched him move across the sky, day after day after day. The gods felt sorry for her, so they eventually turned her into the very first sunflower. And so now all sunflowers do just the same, they look to wherever the sun is.

That’s why in the language of flowers, sunflowers symbolize adoration and loyalty. But I think the real moral of the story is, girl, you gotta wake up and move on. Don’t waste your time on your ex thinking, “When’s he gonna come back to me?” or  “Doesn’t he love me anymore?” Because while you were wasting your time thinking about what your ex is doing, (or who he’s doing for that matter)  he’s already gone left and right up on the sky, most likely enjoying himself. So don’t be a sunflower. Go and get yourself a decent boy. Or girl. Whichever works for you.

Anyway, sunflowers were not the only thing I enjoyed at the festival. There was also plenty of food! I got myself a sausage, grilled corn, a sunflower cider, and shaved ice for dessert. Yum, yum.

One thing about corn is that as much as it tastes good, getting it stuck between your teeth is a hell of its own kind. It’s like, it’s right there and you can’t get it out or take your mind off it all day. It’s like Adele turning up out of the blue uninvited and saying, “I hope you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me, it isn’t oovvveeeeer”

Sorry, I digress. After enjoying all the festival food, I hopped on a train to go back to Tokyo, to see another annual event: the Asakusa Tōrō Nagashi.

The word tōrō means lantern and nagashi means to set something adrift, and this is what this event is about. Every year, people light up lanterns and set them out to Sumida River, in hopes of guiding spirits back to the other world.

Now you think from this description, this would be a solemn, peaceful event, right? I thought so too. But as soon as I got off Asakusa Station, people were everywhere. The bridges where people could see the lanterns were packed with tourists and Japanese people alike, all with their phones and cameras out. It was like, the battle of the tripods and the selfie sticks, and it turned out quite different from what I had imagined.

Even the lighting of the lanterns made me feel like I was in an amusement park rather than in a ceremony for the dead. All you could hear, were things like, “Alright,those who need their lanterns lit, step right up. Okay, next!” It was not solemn at all.

Seeing the lanterns on the river was beautiful, of course. But I think the atmosphere just drained out all the magic. In any case, it’s a one-of-a-kind event. It may be worth seeing once. After that, well if you like crowds, it might be your kind of thing.

And that was how I spent one Saturday in summer. There are plenty of festivals in Japan all summer, and the ones I went to are just two of the popular ones. If you’re spending summer in Japan, I highly recommend enjoying the summer festivities. You’ll forget how oppressive the heat really is.






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