Hanabi – summer fireworks on the banks of the Tamagawa

Fireworks, or hanabi (花火), which charmingly uses the kanji for ‘flowers’ and ‘fire,’ are a must see for anyone in Japan in July or August. While we Brits prefer lighting up our skies in the winter months, whether on Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve, fireworks are a symbol of a quintessential Japanese summer. Originally used to ward off evil spirits, today’s firework displays take the form of big festivals with an incredible atmosphere. Burnt out from our extremely stressful first week in Japan but high on the news that we were going to be allowed to move into our flat, my boyfriend and I headed to the outskirts of Tokyo to catch one of it’s famous displays.

I know firewWalkingorks. My Dad is a bit of a pyro who puts on displays of reasonable size in towns near where we live in Essex and I simply love the atmosphere of local people putting braving the cold in our hats and gloves to watch something beautiful. And so when I say I was seriously impressed by the display we went to, I have plenty to compare it to. The first thing I have to say about the Chofu display, which takes place on the banks of the Tama river, is that it was big. The scale of it was awesome in a way that photos and video can’t really capture, especially with my iPhone very modest skills. The fireworks themselves are massive, a phenomenal amount of people attend and the display went on for two hours. For comparison, the London New Years Eve fireworks generally last 10-15 minutes. Two hours is a lot of explosions.

A hard working policeman attempts to bring order to the crowds
A hard working policeman attempts to bring order to the crowds

The Japanese really make an event of their firework displays. Geeky gaijin like me will enjoy the gorgeous yukatas (cheaper version of a kimono) on display and there’s plenty of delicious food and drink for sale, mostly of the grilled meat variety. Once we got off the train at Chofu station we were greeted by large crowds heading to the display. The processional atmosphere was really exciting and it was lovely spotting the people in traditional dress.

As we neared the display site the crowds got massive. Those who had paid for tickets got to sit on the actual river banks and the rest of us plebeians were shunted to a huge green space behind the bridge. This was absolutely fine by us, as being able to see the expanse of crowds is a spectacle in itself.

The fireworks themselves were simply stunning. Huge, colourful, occasionally in fun shapes like hearts and impeccably choreographed with suitably cheesy and dramatic music (Pirates of the Caribbean, standard). The Japanese sit down during firework displays which, while I think it’s an excellent idea, I doubt we could do the same for Bonfire Night in blighty without our bums being covered with half-frozen mud.

Passengers on the Keio Sagamira line got a better view than we did
Passengers on the Keio Sagamira line got a better view than we did

It had been a dramatic first week in Tokyo but as I sat enjoying the fireworks with my boyfriend and that massive crowd I was filled with love for Japan and excitement for the future.

Can’t beat a bit of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathrustra to finish…

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