Fireworks displays are an indispensable part of Japan's summer traditions. However, in recent years, many have been canceled due to Covid-19.
Japan is famous for its large-scale fireworks festivals, including the National Omagari Fireworks Festival in Akita Prefecture and the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Niigata Prefecture. These bright and beautiful displays of color have also captured people's hearts from all over the world.
We asked foreign residents in Japan, "What surprised you the most about Japanese fireworks festivals?" And the responses were varied! Let's take a look and see what impressed and surprised people the most!
(The following responses are the personal opinions and experiences of those who responded to our interview.)
I've always wanted to do this! Watching fireworks in a yukata is THE image of Japan!
If you're going to a fireworks festival, wearing a yukata is practically a given! Many people are fascinated by the atmosphere of watching fireworks wearing this traditional summer kimono.
"Fireworks displays are really fun! I've often seen people wearing yukata while watching fireworks and eating delicious foods from the yattai food stalls in anime, so I've always wanted to experience it myself. I hope I can go to another fireworks festival when Covid is gone!" (Brazil/20s/Female)
"I loved wearing yukata and seeing fireworks. I really miss them now thanks to Covid." (Indonesia/Teens/Female)
"One day during my first summer in Japan, I saw so many people wearing yukata, and I was surprised! I learned that people wore them for the fireworks displays. Now, the image I have is that yukata = fireworks displays." (Mexico/30s/Male)
Even Japanese people who are used to seeing the fireworks in their yukata get excited about these festivals. Both men and women alike enjoy donning their yukata and going to see the fireworks displays. The love for this custom is universal!
What? Fireworks displays in the summer?
Surprisingly, there were also many opinions regarding the time and frequency of fireworks displays.
"In the UK, there's a holiday called 'Guy Fawkes Night' in early November. At that time, we launch fireworks and pray for peace, so fireworks remind me of autumn. It was interesting to see them in the summer." (United Kingdom/20s/Male)
"In France, we launch fireworks in celebration of the New Year. I was surprised to see so many fireworks, and for nearly two hours, in the summer at the Japanese fireworks festivals." (France/30s/Female)
"In the United States, we often light fireworks to celebrate Independence Day (July 4th), but we don't have fireworks displays every weekend." (United States/40s/Male)
All around the world, people enjoy fireworks for holidays and special celebrations. In the United States, you'll see them in the early summer for the 4th of July. In the United Kingdom and France, you'll see them in fall and winter. It seems to surprise many expats when they learn how frequently Japan holds fireworks festivals all over the country, all throughout the summer!
I was more surprised by the crowds than the fireworks!
Even though are events held all over Japan, people come from all over the country to see the famous fireworks displays. Some people seemed to be puzzled by the turnout!
"You usually see a lot of people in Tokyo, but seeing so many at the fireworks display made me want to ask, 'Where did all these people come from!?' (laughs)" (Russia/20s/Male)
"When I went to a fireworks display, I was more overwhelmed by the number of people rather than the fireworks themselves..." (China/20s/Female)
Even visitors from heavily-populated countries like Russia and China were taken aback by the crowds of people at these fireworks festivals. Though the crowds at the festivals have become all but a nostalgic memory since Covid wreaked its havoc, one might look back and say that these crowds added to the excitement of the displays.
A Festival as Dazzling as the Word 'Fireworks' Itself
What stood out the most for some people wasn't the display but the Japanese word for fireworks ('花火 (hanabi),' literally 'flower-fire').
"The word 'hanabi' sounds poetic. As the meaning of the word suggests, Japanese fireworks are really colorful and vivid. Just seeing them will leave you in awe." (Egypt/20s/Female)
"As the word 'hanabi' suggests, seeing a fireworks display really is like watching flowers blooming at night! The Japanese word only adds to the beauty of it." (Dominican Republic/20s/female)
These ladies from other countries couldn't help but be impressed after learning the Japanese word and kanji for 'fireworks.' While the word "fireworks" might seem obvious to some, you can't deny there's something romantic about it. Certainly, if you watch the displays while contemplating the meaning of the word, you might find them even more beautiful!
That was it? That fireworks display wasn't what I'd call a "show..."
Fireworks boom as they light up the night sky. It's a wonderful sight indeed; however, some viewers were not as impressed as others.
"I found it a little plain without the bright lights or sound production. If it weren't because I understood Japan's unique concept of 'wabi-sabi,' I probably would've found it boring." (Vietnam/40s/Female)
"Fireworks displays in Spain are as exciting as a show. At first, I found the ones in Japan a bit lacking, but then I learned that some have the deeper meaning of honoring lost souls. Now I think the toned-down displays are beautiful, too." (Spain/50s/Male)
Because many people have become accustomed to show-like displays combining music and lighting, some people found Japan's fireworks display to be somewhat lacking. In Japan, fireworks displays originated during the Edo Period. Some displays have a deeper meaning, such as honoring those who died from famine or plague, or memorializing the ancestors during the Obon holiday.
In some cases, people even pray quietly while watching the fireworks displays, so those may not be as flashy as a show. However, fireworks festivals, whether in Japan or around the world, are beautiful indeed, and are definitely worth experiencing with your own eyes!
While many 2021 fireworks festivals have been canceled due to Covid-19, hearing the fresh opinions of people from other countries about their own experiences at fireworks displays makes us miss them all the more. For the time being, however, there are always some incredible fireworks displays you can watch online as you look forward to the next event!
*Information in article as of August 2021.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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