Sep 10, 2016
A unique tradition that the Japanese celebrates every summer is the Hanabi. Hanabi, which is the Japanese term for fireworks, became a summer festivity in the 18th century; although the history started in the mid-1500. According to history, one of the oldest fireworks shows in Japan was annually set up to drive away evil spirits and appease the soul of the dead. This was because of epidemics and nationwide famine that killed a million in the previous years. The celebration of Hanabi can also be deeply understood by considering the character of the Japanese people who love a ‘short-lived beauty’ such as the Sakura in spring which lasts only a few days. (Read more: http://www.nicjapanese.com/english/e-cul-hanabi.html)
When I arrived in Japan, my sister-in-law had been telling me about Hanabi. I remember her describing it as ‘exciting, beautiful, and unexplainable’. Knowing that it is a fireworks show, I thought there was nothing really special about it since we have fireworks display during the New Year’s Eve and a fireworks show on a warm summer evening doesn’t quite add up. But, her excitement about the fireworks show thrilled me and made me look forward to it.
Each city and town has its own schedule for the Hanabi so it is not done all at the same time. We decided to go to Sakahogi first, which is just a 10 minute car drive from Minokamo, to watch the Hanabi. I had my son dressed in a Yukata (informal cotton kimono) as it is just appropriate for the occasion. From the car window, I could catch a sight of people walking towards one direction. Most of them were wearing colorful and elaborate Yukata. Stalls for different kinds of food were set up in the place. People were patiently lining up to buy snacks, dinner, beverages, sweets, and other traditional food. We sat on the ground just like everybody did. Musicians played to entertain the people as they waited for the show. And, finally when the clock hit 7:30 exactly, the fireworks went up to the sky. I watched as it gracefully painted the dark sky. It was really spectacular.
The following week, we joined the Hanabi in our city, Minokamo. The enthusiasm still hasn’t died down even if I knew I’ll be seeing the same fireworks and tasting the same food. Since Minokamo is bigger in land area and population, there was a larger crowd that night. The queues were much longer and was quite challenging to lose sight of your companions. What made this one a little special is the dancing after the fireworks show.
Just after a few days, we travelled to another nearby town which is Yaotsu. People set up by the river bank and some along the foot bridge overlooking the river. As the evening was still young and the sun hasn’t set yet, people lined up to buy their food, chatted with friends they meet on the way, took pictures, and a few just sat there waiting for the night to get dark and the fireworks to start. Evening came and lanterns were floated on the river and a boat carrying lanterns was going round the river as it synchronized with the sound of a drum which created a solemn ambiance. Some minutes later, fireworks went up as high as the heavens and blasted color over the pitch dark sky.
(Here are a few photos I was able to take.)
Hanabi is a beautiful tradition enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. But while we all take pleasure in it, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Bring your own mat or picnic blanket if you wish to sit while watching.
- Bring/buy food to avoid starving yourself.
- Be very patient when queuing for food or anything.
- Sometimes, there are designated entrances and exits. Take note and follow it.
- Clean up and take your trash home with you.
- And of course, take photos but don’t let it spoil your fun.
A mother, wife, and an educator. I am a Filipino married to a Filipino Japanese descendant. My family and I often travel and stay in the country when needed. I am currently a resident of Minokamo, Gifu Prefecture. I have fallen in love with the country, the people, and its culture. I enjoy writing and sharing about expat life in Japan.