Japanese summer isn’t complete without attending one of the many fireworks festivals held in parks, on beaches and by rivers. These hugely attended events have almost as much going on at ground level as they do in the sky.
Popularity of Fireworks
Popularity of Fireworks
If you’re thinking “seen one fireworks display, seen ‘em all”….think again. Japan has a long history of fireworks festivals dating back several hundred years, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect the craft. When you hear the crowd call ‘Tamaya’ or ‘Kagi-ya’ they are, perhaps unbeknownst to them, shouting out the names of two of Japan’s most famous historical pyrotechnicians, whose shops were making and selling fireworks in the early 1700’s. Over the years the number of festivals nationally has swelled, as have the crowd sizes, with some of the bigger shows attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators. And it’s little wonder why.
In the Sky
Some of the larger shows can last up to 90 minutes, with as many as 25,000 fireworks being set off. During that time you can see just about every kind of rocket there is from the chrysanthemums and the starmines to those that explode into smiley face or popular children’s cartoon character patterns. Japan also holds the world record for the largest shell ever detonated, which weighed in at over 1000 pounds, with a diameter of 4 feet and that had to be launched with the help of a cannon.
On the Ground
The action isn’t all going on overhead either. Given the size of the crowds that come to watch, there is of course a lively festival atmosphere at ground level as well, with streets lined with food and drink stalls (yatai). They serve traditional Japanese snack foods such as okonomiyaki, yaki-soba and kakigori, a shaved ice treat covered in a variety of flavored syrups. You can also try your hand as well as some of the more unusual Japanese sideshow attractions, including goldfish catching ‘kingyo sukui’, where children can take home a goldfish after scooping them out of an aquarium. To really fit in with the crowd see if you can find a yukata to wear. These are bright, colorful summer kimono that are traditional summer festival attire. Match it with a pair of traditional Japanese sandals, geta, and you’re good to go. Whatever you wear, make sure it’s lightweight as it tends to get pretty hot in summer, particularly in the middle of an excited crowd.
Everyone wants to secure the best spot, and people will often arrive hours before a show kicks off to hold the prime positions. Depending on how much of a fireworks fanatic you are, you might want to factor a little extra time into getting to the area, though of course with some fireworks exploding with a diameter of several hundred feet, there are going to be plenty of vantage points. Some festivals do offer paid seating, but these spots are usually not available on the day and can be sold out weeks in advance. Be prepared for delays getting out as trains and buses tend to get very crowded as the display comes to an end. It’s also likely to be very hot, so see if you can pick up a fan to bring along, and make sure you have a a couple of bottles of water handy. It might seem like a lot of work but the shows are truly dazzling and well worth the effort.