The Sky Tree is taking the headlines, but this weekend it will be the Sumida River which is the focus of visitors to the Asakusa area, with Tokyo Hotaru events spread across Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t have plans for the end of Golden Week, then this is a great excuse to go to downtown Tokyo!

Hotaru is the Japanese word for firefly. It’s a bit early for the real bugs to light up the riversides – they usually come in June, and more often in the countryside – so this time the glow from the river is man-made.

Panasonic has provided “about 100,000” floating lights known as inorihoshi (lit. prayer stars) which look a bit like table tennis balls and contain LEDs that will light up the river as they are released and float past the Sky Tree and other Asakusa landmarks. Look at the picture above or check out the other images on the event’s website and you can get an idea – it is sure to be special.

You can ‘buy’ a prayer star for ¥1000 – in the spirit of conservation, it will be re-used at future events and your money will go towards the ongoing regeneration of Tokyo’s parks riverbanks.

The organisers call Tokyo Hotaru part of the ‘Sumida River Renaissance’; their aim, states their website, is to create a vibrant Showa era style river-front which will encourage Tokyoites to enjoy some of the natural green spaces that line the many rivers through town whilst having a taste of the countryside within the city.

Markets will line the western (Asakusa station side) riverbanks over the whole weekend and there will be kids events throughout – May 5 is Children’s Day in Japan so expect the Kodomonokuni (Kids Land) to be popular!

Workshops, concerts and parades all lead up to the “main event”, the ‘Light Symphony’ of 100,000 ‘prayer stars’, which will float and sparkle along the river from 6.30 p.m. on Sunday May 6. There are paid seating areas – see the website for details – but some of the riverbank will be free. Get there early for the best views, though, as many who have been to the spectacular Sumida fireworks displays in summer will attest to!

When? Saturday and Sunday May 5 and 6, 2012 from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Where? Along the banks of the Sumida River near Asakusa Station.

Have a look at the Tokyo Hotaru site for more information.

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Tokyo Hotaru festival 2012