The hot Japanese summer is the perfect time for something even hotter: fireworks. Where in the U.S. and Australia buying fireworks is either illegal or strongly discouraged, in Japan you can buy your fireworks at the convenience store. All summer long you’ll see Japanese of all ages setting off fireworks in any open space from a vacant parking lot to larger displays with family and friends on the beach. In Japan, as in many countries in Asia, summer just wouldn’t be the same without fireworks. So go ahead, let out your inner child that never got to play with fire! This is your chance to BE JAPANESE.
In addition, the Japanese summer includes numerous fireworks festivals. Every town has one and for this event, the streets are closed down in order to accommodate the throngs of people, most donned in festival wear and who enjoy eating and drinking from the food stalls lining the streets. Absolutely everyone is carrying a fan to help fend off the summer heat. It’s a great chance to see the young Japanese girls dressed up in their colorful summer kimonos, themselves looking like “fire flowers “ the literal translation of hanabi, or fireworks, in Japanese.
Fireworks festivals are usually held on weekends and each city or town boasts the popularity of their festival according to how many fireworks are set off, which can be anywhere from 5,00 to over 20,000. The fireworks are usually set off over water: rivers or the sea as these are usually public areas with enough space to accommodate all the people. Feel free to walk around with a beer in your hand and buy some typical Japanese festival fare from the street vendors: fried octopus balls, squid on a stick, or corn on the cob dunked in soy sauce.
The biggest fireworks festivals tend to be the most popular, but don’t discount the small town festivals where you can truly join in with the locals in the fun. Every town is proud of their fireworks display, no matter how small it may be. Where I live, they boast Japan’s smallest fireworks festival! The point is that we have one.
Most fireworks at the festivals are sponsored by local businesses. So at the larger festivals you may find the fireworks display pauses to announce sponsors every few minutes. But the reward is that each business competes to sponsor the best, most impressive firework of the whole show. Expect to see fireworks in shapes of flowers, animals and even a smiley face (pictured).
You’re guaranteed to go away impressed.
- Informap JAPAN offers a guide to the biggest and greatest fireworks festivals in the country
- Even Miyajima has a fireworks festival, using its famous Itsukushima Torii gate as a background. See a video of the display at Get Hiroshima?
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com