Like catching cicadas and chasing fireflies, fireworks in Japan are an integral part of the summer experience. Originally used to scare off evil spirits, fireworks (hanabi in Japanese) today are an exuberant affair. During my first week in Japan years ago, I remember joining the yukata-clad masses for the best light show ever over Tokyo Bay. If you want to add fireworks to your summer schedule, check out the following displays:
- Sumida River Fireworks – This is the extravaganza that started it all. The first fireworks display in Tokyo was set off in 1733, supposedly as a way to ward off the pestilence (cholera) that had been menacing the city. The festival has gradually moved upriver over the centuries, from Ryoguku to Asakusa, but you’ll still find people lining the riverbanks for miles. If you can’t see the skies, content yourself with the profusion of color in the streets around Sensoji Temple where the accompanying festival is just as explosive.
- Tokyo Bay Fireworks – If you miss out on the Sumida River Fireworks, don’t fret. Just a week after Asakusa’a bash, Tokyo’s night skies light up again, this time a bit further south over the Tokyo Bay and the man-made island of Odaiba. The best views are from the top floor restaurants in high-class Shiodome. But if you can’t afford the 40th floor prices, grab one of the cheap seats on the sidewalks around nearby Hamamatsucho and prepare to be dazzled.
- Osaka Tenjin Fireworks – While not exclusively a fireworks festival, explosions frame the second night of this multi-day celebration, lighting the path for the hundreds of ships that float down the Ogawa bearing portable shrines. Grab your spot in one of the riverside parks early – this event ranks up there with Kyoto’s Gion Festival and Tokyo’s Kanda Matsuri as one of the top festivals in Japan.
- Miyajima Fireworks – One of Japan’s most notable sites is the floating torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine just off the island of Miyajima. Now imagine this magical vista with an explosion of fireworks glistening over the Inland Sea.
- Omagari Fireworks Competition – If you can figure out how to get to this out of the way destination in northern Japan, you’ll be supremely rewarded with an all-day and all-night display of the nation’s most impressive pyrotechnics. Thousands of shells are fired into the heavens and displays are rated – the best teams win. Trains run from both Tokyo and Akita but with sporadic schedules, a package tour may be the way to go.