The Over 100 Year Old Kamihinokinai’s Paper Balloon Festival

The Paper Balloon Festival of Kamihinokinai in Akita Prefecture is a spectacular annual event that’s been celebrated for over a hundred years. About 100 gigantic paper balloons lit with candles are released and shine magically like stars in the winter evening sky. The balloons are painted with Ukiyo-e styled women and samurai warriors. It truly is something to behold!

Paper balloon. | Chris Lewis

Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival is held each year on February 10. It is a traditional event whose origins can be traced back to the Edo Period scientist Hiraga Gennai (1728–1780). He was a Japanese pharmacologist, student of Rangaku, physician, author, painter, and inventor who supposedly taught the Japanese the principles behind hot air balloons.

The paper balloons are about eight meters tall and are able to float up in the sky from the air inside, heated by candles. The designs painted on the paper balloons are usually from traditional Japanese wood-block prints, and some of the balloons have people’s wishes people written on them. The purpose of the event is to make a wish, and it used to be for a good harvest and good health. Nowadays people have come to wish for more varied things such as success in life, passing exams, and safe travels.

Hiraga Gennai

To witness the event from Tokyo, get off the Shinkansen at Kakunodate Station (about 3 hours from Tokyo), change trains to Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway, and you will arrive at Kamihinokinai Station. Travel time is about 40 minutes.  You can also join a scheduled tour around the area northwest of Kamihinokinai where Lake Tazawa is located. It is the deepest lake in Japan, and is close to several hot spring resorts. Another reason to visit the many wonders of Japan!

Winter paper balloon festival. | Syuzo Tsushima