I guess that launching fireworks are universal in the world when we have some celebrations such as New Year’s Day and Independence Day, however, fireworks remind us “Japanese summer traditions”. There are so many fireworks festivals all over Japan between July and August from long time ago.
Why we are having so many fireworks in summer in Japan?
Why we have fireworks mainly in summer is related to the traditional Japanese custom called “Obon”. It is said that the souls of our ancestors come back to us once a year at the period of “Obon” week (the mid of the month) in July or August (“Obon week” differ from place to place in Japan). And fireworks used to be launched at the last day of that time in order for repose of souls when our ancestors go back to their world. Then, fireworks had gradually changed as typical events in summer season through a long history in our country.
I don’t know whether it is common in the world, but we have professional skillful artisans called “Hanabi-shi” in Japanese who create each fireworks ball by allocating a ratio of gunpowder according to its designs by their hands. Launching fireworks is also done by them, so that they are qualified for dealing with hazardous materials. (Although IT has been progressing in the world, it said that creating fireworks is impossible by machine. So, it is done all by human being. Unfortunately, they have worried about how to find successors for the next generation, because the payment for “Hanabi-shi” is not necessary good. )
What is features of Japanese fireworks?
Compared to fireworks in other country, Japanese ones are slicked to the details and qualities for each one of them. When I saw fireworks in other country, they were launched one after another and all at once in a short time, so it made me more dynamic and gorgeous impression. In case of Japanese ones, it seems to me that we prefer to enjoy the details of each one. Of course, we also have a climax time at the beginning and the end, sometimes middle, but we tend to spend a time to see fireworks launching one by one. You can find all spectators cheer whenever each fireworks is frying up in the night sky. It is very colorful, making artistic form like weeping willow and changing its formation automatically during the sky. Sometimes, it can make cartoon characters in the sky such as Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty with 3-dimensions. It must need very high techniques to create such elaborate and high quality fireworks and I believe Japanese fireworks artisans deserve to do it in the world!
Which fireworks is the most famous in Japan and worth to visit to see on-site?
You will have plenty of chances to see Japanese fireworks if you stay here during summer time from large events to local ones. In particular, we have the most famous 3 fireworks in Japan, which are Omagari (Akita Prefecture), Tsuchiura (Ibaraki Prefecture) and Nagaoka (Niigata Prefecture). The first two also serve as fireworks competitions. According to some websites, fireworks artisans from all over Japan compete for comprehensive abilities as fireworks experts at Omagari competition, on the other hand, they compete for the quality of Star mine which is a kind of fireworks at Tsuchiura competition. The last one, Nagaoka fireworks is not a competition but a festival and so many different fireworks sponsored by companies and volunteer groups fly up to the sky. The history of Nagaoka fireworks is old and originally started more than 100 years ago, and it has held as the requiem for victims such as the air raid in Nagaoka in 1945 and other big tragedies like earthquakes and natural disasters in Japan later.
I have experienced to see Nagaoka fireworks twice in the past with my friends when Aug 2nd and 3rd was on weekend. (The fireworks festival is held along the riverbed of Shinano River on Aug 2nd and 3rd every year although these 2 days are on weekdays.) As it is extremely famous fireworks festival among people, I heard that the number of visitors always reach over a million for 2 days each year. Of course, pre-booking seats on-site is also very competitive and hard to secure. If you are residents of this area, it is not impossible to see by sitting on the riverside for free, but it is mandatory for visitors coming from other areas like us to secure the seats on-site beforehand. Fortunately, we succeeded to book our seats for both times, box seats on the riverbed for the 1st year and tables and chair at the sports arena near on-site for the 2nd year.
The fireworks usually starts by the announcement of MC at 7:00 pm when the sky just is turning into dark. The MC introduces the name of fireworks, its sponsor and short episode before launching. Each fireworks is launched in order and some special fireworks programs are prepared in-between them such as motif fireworks of TV drama programs and “Phoenix” which is a pray for recoveries in Japan from various natural disasters. “Phoenix” was, in particular, a great scale of fireworks combination and so impressive accompanied by a song of “Jupitar” by Ayaka Hirabara, a Japanese famous singer. Anyway, it was the most dynamic scale of fireworks in terms of each sizes, distance ranges and the number of launching among what I have seen in my life. As I just found the movie of Phoenix on You Tube, please enjoy to see it if you are interested in.
Some points when you go to see the famous fireworks
We visited to see Nagaoka fireworks as 1 night and 2 days trip in both years by booking a hotel in Echigo-Yuzawa and round-trip tickets of Shinkansen (a bullet train). Echigo-Yuzawa is not in Nagaoka and a few stations back from Nagaoka station, because hotel rooms in Nagaoka city during these 2 days had already fully-booked several months ago. If you want to visit to see the well-known fireworks festival, you need to arrange your trip as soon as possible. We arranged all of our itinerary by ourselves, but some travel agencies usually offer the fireworks tour by train or bus, so it is an better idea and easier to join them even it is a bit costly and busy itinerary. Because they have already secured seats on-site, hotel rooms and transportation, so you don’t need to arrange by yourselves.
Additionally, please be careful not to stray from your family and friends. A great number of visitors gather in one place at once, so it is very easy to lose sight of your companions on the way to or back from the venue. I have also lost sight of my friends at fireworks venues several times in the past, even smaller local fireworks. Especially, here is a foreign country where you are not accustomed. Please don’t forget to decide a meeting point and how to keep in touch among your group members in advance in case you get lost for not being upset!!