Although many of Japan’s festivals celebrate traditions that date back centuries, the Kobe Luminarie, is based on more recent events and holds great significance and deep meaning to the people of Kobe.
As the name suggests, the Kobe Luminarie is an annual light festival that is held for two weeks in December to commemorate the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995.
The Great Hanshin earthquake struck the city on January 17, 1995, leaving more than 6,000 dead, causing more than $100 billion worth of damages, and leaving the entire city of Kobe devastated. After the city was rebuilt the lights were set up as a memorial to the victims and symbolic of the residents’ hope for the city’s revival.
The lights for the first Kobe Luminarie were donated by the Italian government. Today more than 200,000 hand-painted lights are lit up each year. The lights are turned on for a couple of hours for 2 weeks and the sights are open to locals and tourists. Major streets are cordoned off, so pedestrians can get an up-close view of the breathtaking lights.
The Kobe Luminarie was originally meant to be a one-off event in December 1995, however, Kobe’s residents found the event to be uplifting and called for the event to be held again the following year. Since then the light festival has been an annual event, and although it is free and open to all, a donation request for around 100 yen is made to keep the tradition going. Donation boxes line the entire pathway, enabling pedestrians to donate at any stage of their journey, while the organisers are open to receive donations at any time of the year.
Kobe Luminarie is viewed by close to 3 to 5 million people each year and most people leave with a promise to return.
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