Sparks Fly During Japanese Summers: Visit a Japanese Fireworks Show!

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Sparks Fly During Japanese Summers: Visit a Japanese Fireworks Show!

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Although Japan can get very hot and humid during the summer, it doesn’t stop people from going out to experience the entertainment available during the season. There are swimming pools, beaches, festivals (matsuris), fireworks events and all different kinds of summer foods too.  Since fireworks events are available only during the short season of July, August, and a couple days in September, people from all over the country rush to try and get the best seats at the best fireworks events.

How did fireworks events become popular in Japan?

Fireworks were brought to Japan sometime in the 1400’s. In the late 1600’s, fireworks started to become popular to the extent that the government had to issue several bans on using fireworks. The first documented fireworks festival though, is said to have began in 1733. There was another ban on producing explosive powder after World War II, but the ban was lifted and fireworks events restarted in 1948 at Ryogoku, where 600 fireworks were launched and 700,000 people gathered. Fireworks have become safer, and every year, the different events try to outshine their rivals by launching more fireworks. Now, the event with the most fireworks is the Suwako Matsuri Kojo Fireworks Festival in Nagano prefecture, that shoots around 40,000 fireworks every year.

What kinds of fireworks are there?

There are several types of fireworks in Japan. These fireworks are usually made by skilled craftsmen who have learned the skills from generations before them. Each firework is carefully made, and every year there are more and more new types created. At a fireworks show, you will see some fireworks with distinct shapes like hearts, umbrellas, smiley faces, and famous characters. At some fireworks shows, there are fireworks that resemble waterfalls and are called Niagara fireworks (pictured below), as they look like Niagara falls. There are other fireworks such as senrin, or one thousand rings, which refers to a firework that splits into small fireworks of many colors (pictured above). Fireworks generally come in size 3 to size 40, and different metals inside the fireworks produce the bright colors when heated.

Where and when do these events happen?

You can visit a Fireworks festival anywhere in Japan! There are fireworks events in every prefecture usually along rivers or beaches. There are also some places where you can watch the fireworks shows from a boat! If you visit Tokyo, one of the most famous fireworks events in Tokyo is the Sumidagawa Fireworks Show, where around 22,000 fireworks are launched, and in 2016 there were around 95,000 visitors. The fireworks usually take place during the early night, just after it turns dark. Other popular ones in Tokyo include the Jingu Gaien Fireworks Show that will take place August 20th, this year. They launch around 12,000 fireworks and also have artist performances. For this event, you would have to buy tickets as you would for a live performance.

What happens during a fireworks show? 

The fireworks events can get pretty hectic. If you check online first, there are guides to the best spots, what time to get there, and maps that show the best ways to get there. Everybody wants to get the best seat, and although the events usually start at around 7:00PM, there are people waiting from early in the morning. This act is called bashotori, or “taking a place”, and people will bring a sheet to lay on the ground and save space for the rest of their group. Finding a place and placing your mat down is free, but if you want to reserve a nice seat without the hassle, you can pay for reserved seats too. Around fireworks events there are usually yatai, or street food shops, as well. Takoyaki, yakisoba, okonomiyaki and other popular street foods are sold. After you’ve grabbed a seat and while you’re waiting for the fireworks to begin, it’s great to grab a few things at the yatai to bring back. They are usually on the roads that lead to the fireworks and shouldn’t be hard to find. Many people also prefer to wear traditional summer clothing, or yukatas, to fireworks events too.

Although most people find going through battling for a seat in the heat tiring, at the end of the day, most people enjoy it as its usually a once in a year experience. Once you get to sit down with your family or friends, the fireworks shows are a truly beautiful sight to see. But if you don’t want to shuffle through the crowds, there are also small toy fireworks that you can buy at stores in Japan. They are pretty small, especially senko hanabi which are very popular, but still give a sense of summer in Japan.

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Born in US, currently a student in Japan. Loves Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary.

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