For fireworks aficionados, the colorful and lively shows in Japan are hard to beat. Summer is high season for watching the shows across Japan with viewing opportunities for many events at various locations. Grab some snacks, a cold drink or an iced treat, a fan and some friends for a fun, outdoor evening.
The Japanese term for fireworks is “hanabi” or flower fire literally translated. The typically hot summers in Japan are highlighted with a number of festivals featuring brilliant fireworks shows. The atmosphere for the evening shows is always celebratory and jovial. Large parties of company workers gather at spots which were secured by the junior workers earlier in the day. And what better time to go on a date with one’s sweetheart. The shows are frequently held at river banks, near coastal areas or other open spots. Depending on the location, the backdrop might be a castle, city skyline or bridge. One of the oldest festivals in Japan is the 280 year old Sumida river show which attracts about a million viewers in Tokyo. Teams of firework masters compete during the show with brilliantly colored lights sometimes depicting popular cartoon characters or Japanese letters. For those in Tokyo, summer is a like a fireworks buffet with a significant number of shows scheduled around the area. Detailed fireworks guides are published which note the time, prime viewing spots and number of rockets to be launched for each show. In other areas of the country, finding shows may require a bit more travel to the event site.
At The Festival
The popularity of Japan’s firework shows is evident by the crowds filling the streets and walkways for the event. Leave early and expect delays both going and coming to the show. At the prime viewing areas for the show, spectators are greeted with a line of food and vendor stalls. These “yatai” or street food vendors serve all manner of snacks and treats. Grilled squid, breaded octopus, fish-shaped sweet bean paste filled donuts, rice balls, meal boxes, sushi rolls, grilled noodles and more can be found from these vendors. Beer, sake, juice and tea are plentiful and kids will want to get the “lamune” lemonade flavored drink with the marble in the bottle. Fireworks shows are the best time for a shaved ice treat called “kakigori”. Kakgori comes in numerous flavors such as strawberry, cherry, grape, melon and green tea. Depending on the vendor, getting sweet bean paste on top is an option. Of course, avoiding the lines at the vendors is possible by bringing one’s own provisions. Occasionally, restaurants in the area have special seating for spectators. For shows near high rise buildings, sitting on the rooftop restaurant or in nearby hotel restaurant may be a viewing choice as well.
In addition to the food items at the site, vendors also have games like the ones found at a county fair. Ring toss, balloon and goldfish scooping games are fun for passing the time before the big show.
Remember the Yukata
While some spectators will arrive in work clothes or casual summer wear, many Japanese choose to wear the traditional summer kimono or “yukata”. The yukata is a lighter weight garment than a regular kimono and perfect for the warm evenings. Clip clop, wooden sandals called “geta” and a colorful handbag complete the look. The belt around the waist of the yukata is the perfect place to tuck a fan to keep cool and the long sleeve pockets will hold one’s valuables. Interestingly, an old fashioned Japanese word for bribe is “sore no shita” or “at the bottom of a kimono sleeve”.
If one’s desire for firework viewing is unquenched by the festival, perhaps creating a personal firework show is a suggestion. Local convenience stores carry firework sets for purchase. A river bank or beach is a good place to light up one’s own pyrotechnics. Though, generally mild in explosiveness, the convenience store fireworks have a beauty of their own. The delicate “senko” hanabi is a hand-held sparkler which transfixes a viewer with tiny sparks and trails.
Summertime means showtime for fireworks in Japan with local events across the country. Dress up in a yukata, get some food and drinks to enjoy with friends and find a spot for the grand show. And remember the next show is coming up soon.