During summer in Japan, one of the signature events happening would have to be the fireworks festivals which are held at various locations nationwide. Ever wondered why the fireworks festivals tend to be held in summer? Unsure which fireworks festival to attend because there are too many to choose from in this season? No worries, read on to get the answers to these questions and enjoy the visual aerial treats during your trip!
It is estimated that there are as many as 6,000 fireworks festivals held in Japan annually and the majority of them are concentrated in summer, from June to September. There may be people wondering why these festivals are held during this season especially since it’s hot and the sky isn’t as clear as that during colder seasons like winter. There are actually historical and practical reasons behind this trend.
Historically, the launching of fireworks was held as one of the memorial rituals for spirits. In a way, this had a similar significance as the welcoming fire for returning spirits on the first night of the Bon festival (mukaebi), the ceremonial bonfire to see off spirits on the final night of O-Bon (okuribi), the revolving lanterns used during funerals (mawari tourou), and the launching of straw boats or lanterns on the water at the end of the Bon festival (shouryou nagashi).
In the 18th year of the Kyouhou era, the 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune started the Ryogoku Kawabiraki, or the Ryogoku Festival, to mark the start of the boating season which was meant to comfort those who died from the plague and chase away evil spirits. Since then, the fireworks festivals were usually held in conjunction with the kawabiraki festivals which were in summer so it slowly became a fixture in this season.
In terms of practical reasons behind this trend, the weather is a key factor why the fireworks festivals tend to be held during summer. As the weather is usually too cold during the winter, it is said that there will be a smaller turnout since the spectators will find it difficult and unbearable to wait outdoors for the event to start, or during the entire 60 to 90 minutes at one stretch for large-scale fireworks festivals. In addition, due to the dry weather during winter, the fireworks will become more flammable as there is a higher risk of ignition on its own so the festivals are usually held in summer.
In recent years, though, there have been movements in scaling down fireworks festivals due to tightening budgets of local governments and sluggish consumer spending. Some winter festivals have also started holding fireworks performances. What this means is that you may be able to catch more smaller-scale events held over the course of the year rather than having most festivals being concentrated during summer.
During the Edo era, the top 3 fireworks festivals were the Mito no Hanabi held by the Mito Domain in present-day Ibaraki Prefecture, the Ichikawa no Hanabi held by the Kofu Domain in present-day Yamanashi Prefecture, and the Yoshida no Hanabi held by Mikawa Yoshida Domain in present-day Aichi Prefecture.
In modern times, however, the new top 3 fireworks festivals of the Heisei era are the All Japan Fireworks Competition (Zenkoku Hanabi Kyougi Taikai) which is also known as Oomagari no Hanabi, the Nagaoka Festival Big Fireworks Festival (Nagaoka Matsuri Oohanabi Taikai), and the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition (Tsuchiura Zenkoku Hanabi Kyougi Taikai). Read more about these festivals below which are sorted according to the dates when they are held:
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Nagaoka Matsuri Hanabi Taikai is held between the 1st and 3rd of August every year at Nagaoka City in Niigata Prefecture. The fireworks festival itself started on August 1, 1946 to mark the first anniversary of the Nagaoka Air Raid which happened in the previous year and to remember the 1,486 people who died when 80 percent of the city was razed to the ground. However, there had already been a fireworks display event since 1879 which was traditionally held on the 14th and 15th of September, so by 1906, the August edition became an official fireworks festival of the city and took on the name of Nagaoka Matsuri in 1951.
The festival is split up into three main components – the pre-festival event, the daytime event, and the fireworks display – and takes place at various spots within the city. In this year’s edition, the pre-festival event takes place from the evening of August 1 at Ootedoori and Suzurandoori in front of Nagaoka Station. This includes the floating of lanterns, singing of folk songs, performing of the Seiyu drums, and a parade by the firefighting department’s band which also features Harley Davidson motorcycles and portable shrines (mikoshi). By 10:30 pm, the memorial fireworks held for the war victims and the earlier generations who contributed to the city’s restoration efforts will begin. As for the daytime events, they take place on both the 2nd and 3rd of August at the same venue as the pre-festival event where local companies and organizations set up stalls along the streets and hold performances such as ice-carving demonstrations and mass dances.
The fireworks display is held on the evenings of both the 2nd and 3rd of August along the banks of the Shinano River near the Oote and Chousei Bridges. To avoid disappointment, you should buy the tickets in advance online or at convenience stores. Typically, the tickets go on sale in stages from May, and depending on the location you wish to sit at and the type of seat, the prices will differ.
There are some rules to take note of if you are attending this event:
- Pets are not allowed at the venue even if they are placed in bags or cages.
- No smoking is allowed at the seats so you can only smoke at designated areas.
- No chairs and tables are to be brought into the venues.
- There are restrictions on the use of tripod stands in all seats except for the “cameraman” seats.
- You are not allowed to stand up to take photos in the seating area, nor take pictures from areas outside the designated seating area.
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The Oomagari no Hanabi festival takes place on the 4th Saturday of August every year at Omonogawa Kasenjiki Undoukouen in the Oomagari area of Daisen City, Akita Prefecture. This is the longest-running fireworks competition in Japan which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. What’s unique about this festival is that it is the only one in Japan which features a daytime fireworks competition!
This year, Oomagari no Hanabi takes place on the 27th of August where the daytime competition starts at 5:30 pm and the night version starts at 6:50 pm. The scale of the night version will be greater than its daytime counterpart. Due to the popularity of this event, it is highly recommended that you purchase your tickets through travel agents, telephone, the Internet, or personally at the Oomagari Shimin Kaikan. Although, note that it is not a given that you will definitely get your tickets as the applications will have to go through a lucky draw. Due to the number of people who will be heading to the event, the organizers also encourage visitors to make their way to the venue ahead of time especially since there will be many road closures on that day.
Tsuchiura Zenkoku Hanabi Kyougi Taikai is, strictly speaking, not a summer fireworks festival as it takes place on the first Saturday of October which is in autumn. The annual fireworks competition is also the only one among the top 3 fireworks festivals to be held in a major city such as Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture. This year, the festival will be held on the 1st of October from 6:00 pm to 10:30 pm, at the side of the Sakura River near Gakuen Oohashi. Depending on weather conditions, the festival may be postponed so do keep a lookout for any announcements on their official website. As huge crowds are expected from 3 pm onwards, the organizers recommend that you make your way to the area early on that day. There will be shuttle bus services between Tsuchiura Station and the venue so you can make use of this when attending the event.
If you are interested in purchasing the tickets to this event, you can keep a lookout for the information on the ticketing website. In addition, note that the seats are sold in units of grid squares. A half grid square allows up to three people to enter while a full grid square can accommodate six people. In case you are wondering why the quoted ticket prices for this event appear to be more expensive than the other two fireworks festivals, that is because most ticket prices are quoted on an individual basis while this is on a group basis.
While you are in Japan, why not attend one of the fireworks festivals featured above and be awed by the dazzling display of colors in the summer night sky?
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