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Japanese Summer – A Season of Fireworks and Dance Festivals 1

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/12 Traditional Culture ,

It’s summer time now in Japan. If you know how hot and sweaty you can be during summer in Japan, then you also know that summer is also the time of fireworks and dance festivals. Almost every night of summer in Japan has fireworks, it may be coming from a small village or a big city.

Japanese Fireworks

History of Fireworks in Japan

According to Nihongo Instructor Club website, though fireworks did not origate in Japan, its appearance in the country started in late 1540s when guns and gunpowder were introduced by Lusitanians (Indo-European people living in Lusitania which part of it became the modern Portugal). Historical records show that the first shogun of the Edo Government, Tokugawa Ieyasu, saw fireworks from the Edo Castle. Firework-making then became popular and the makers improve their skills during that period (1604-1868). Firework events before were held to drive away evil spirits and to console the souls of the dead. Fireworks then became as a form of public entertainment during summer in 18th century.

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Are you not entertained? Fireworks sure does bring amusement to kids and adults alike. (Photo by Spiegel on Flickr)

Characteristics of Japanese Fireworks

It is expected that fireworks should come in different colors and Japanese fireworks did sure follow it. The main characteristic that distinguishes Japanese fireworks from other countries’ fireworks is its precise circle with many colors as possible. Each spark of the firework also changes colors, from red to green to blue, etc. Each shot also has multiple circles.

Characteristic of Japanese Fireworks: precise circle-shaped. (Photo by Kondo Atsushi on Flickr)

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Each shot also can contain multiple circles.

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Even from afar, you could see the fireworks’ precise round shape.

Some Famous Firework Shows in Japan

Sumida River Fireworks Festival, Tokyo

It is one of oldest firework shows in Japan. The first Sumida Firework Show can be traced back to year 1733 under the eight shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune. This event was held after a year in which Edo (now Tokyo) was hit by a famine which killed about one million people. Nowadays, it is held during the last week of July. Because of the tall buildings and skyscrapers of Tokyo, the best spots to view this event are the parks along the river. For more details about the event, read it here: Sumidagawa Hanabi.

Tokyo Bay Grand Fireworks, Tokyo

Remember Rainbow Bridge? This event is held north of it. It is held every second Saturday of August.

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The Rainbow Bridge. Now, imagine this view with fireworks. (Photo by Luke Ma on Flickr)

Tenjin Festival, Osaka

One of the Japan’s Three Great Festivals, along with Kyoto’s Gion and Tokyo’s Kanda, the Tenjin Festival’s firework display is also something to look forward to. On the second night of the festival, which is held in late July, more than 4000 firework shells are launched. The fireworks display is done simultaneously with the procession of flaming ships bearing shrines along the Ogawa River.

Miyajima Fireworks, Hiroshima

The Torii (Shinto shrine gate) of Itsukushima Shrine, sure lives up to its name as one of Japan’s Three Views (日本三景) even during summer. Held in mid-August, he fireworks are launched from boats off the north of Miyajima Island and when viewed with the gate, it produces unique photographic shots, thus the Miyajima Fireworks was dubbed as the most photographed firework event.

Enjoying Fireworks Like Locals

As seen in Japanese manga and anime, firework watching is a romantic thing to do between couples. Some people going to these events  can be seen wearing yukata, or the summer version of kimono. There are also food stalls in these areas where you can munch and gulp Japanese food and drinks.

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People going to watch fireworks can be seen wearing Yukata. Food stalls are also present in these areas. (Photo by Javi Sevillano on Flickr)

In the next part of this series, we will feature another Japanese summer staple – the Bon Odori or Bon dance festival.

Sources:

1. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2267.html

2. Firework Shows. Nihongo Instructor Club. http://www.nicjapanese.com/english/e-cul-hanabi.html

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