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A hanabi matsuri near Senso-ji in Asakusa.
A hanabi matsuri near Senso-ji in Asakusa.

Hanabi Matsuri: Exploring Magic of Fireworks Festival in Japan

Thuy FangThuy Fang
Published Time
Posted on September 29, 2023

When it comes to a signature image of Japan, spectacular fireworks in a summer night sky might come to mind. Hanabi matsuri (fireworks festival) is not only beautifully depicted in various media but also a symbol of Japanese culture of the season. Look deeper into this brilliant and meaningful yearly event to learn about its behind-the-scenes and fantastic magic.

Where did hanabi matsuri come from?

Hanabi means “flower fire” in Japanese. These fireworks come in sizes and shapes, from small to huge. It is said that Japan was introduced to fireworks in the 1600s when Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun, received fireworks as a present from a representative of King James I. People in Japan have loved them for a very long time. 

A grandfather and child playing with fireworks during hanabi matsuri.
Fireworks date back to the Edo period. Image via Shutterstock

In the 17th century, during Japan’s Edo period, the very first versions of hanabi lit up the skies. Back then, they were just starting to look like the dazzling fireworks we admire today. But a significant turning point came in 1733, a year to remember. It is the celebration that Tokugawa Yoshimune, the 8th Tokugawa shogun, decided to paint the night with a fantastic display of fireworks along the Sumida River to honor the water deity – Suujin. 

However, another source points out that 1733 was a sad year due to Japan’s difficult situation, so fireworks lit up the sky to remember people who died from a terrible famine and sickness. Even though it was a sad time, lighting those fireworks was like saying, “Let’s celebrate life and make the world a little brighter!”

What kinds of fireworks are at a hanabi matsuri?

Pokamono

Bee-like Pokamono fireworks.
Some pokamono fireworks zip through the night sky like bees! Image via THE GATE

The pokamono is like a surprise in the dark. It usually splits into two, revealing twinkling stars and bright colors. It’s like nature’s fireworks coloring the night sky! Some particular content types of pokamono, like the willow, bee, and hanarai (thunder flower), can create extraordinary displays. Significantly, the Willow easily steals the show with its streaming sparkles that often work perfectly with music or scene changes.

Hanwarimono 

Hanwarimono fireworks and hanabi matsuri.
Hanwarimono fireworks resemble waterfalls! Image via Shutterstock

One of the coolest hanwarimono fireworks at a festival is senringiku (thousand chrysanthemums). It bursts into many smaller fireworks. One after the other, each one paints the sky with its vibrant color. This big round firework is always like a burst of joy and color.

Warimono

A bunch of warimono fireworks at a hanabi matsuri.
Warimono fireworks can be quite colorful! Image via Shutterstock

The warimono is like the building block of Japanese fireworks, which always explode in a round shape. You can imagine that It’s a firework bursting like a blooming chrysanthemum and scattering colorful stars and streaks from the center. 

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Three Must-See Hanabi Matsuri in The Last Quarter of 2023

Lake Toyako Fireworks (Hokkaido)

A night scene at the Lake Toyako fireworks.
Lake Toyako is home to one of the largest fireworks festivals in Hokkaido! Image via Visit HOKKAIDO

Every night from April to October, Lake Toyako hosts a spectacular 20-minute fireworks display. The ones at Lake Toyako may not be the biggest, yet the thing that happens every night makes the hanabi event here outstanding. The fireworks also come from a ship moving along the lake slowly so that you can watch from your hotel room or the lakeside park. In addition, the show lights up the sky in beautiful colors, which lets everyone enjoy the fantastic display. 

Tsuchiura National Fireworks Festival (Ibaraki)

The Tsuchiura National Fireworks Festival happens every first Saturday of November. It’s a huge competition where professional fireworks experts from Japan compete to create the most impressive fireworks. There are different categories, like big fireworks and creative displays, illuminating the sky with glowing colors.

A hanabi matsuri at Tsuchiura in Ibaraki.
Fireworks at the Tsuchiura Festival come in all shapes and sizes! Image via Activity Japan

This festival is unique because it blends old traditions with new technology. The best part of the night is when they set off 2000 fireworks in just six minutes, creating a brilliant show. People can find an excellent spot to watch along the river, but getting there early for the best view is best. This festival is a fantastic way to end the year with a bang!

Chichibu Night Festival Fireworks (Saitama)

This is a big celebration that happens near Tokyo in December. It’s one of Japan’s top festivals, known for its beautiful floats decorated with lanterns and music. Furthermore, people pull stunning traditional floats through Chichibu’s streets, with kabuki performances happening inside.

A scene at the Chichibu Night Festival featuring a large float.
Some of these floats have kabuki performances inside! Image via Chichibu Matsuri

One exciting part of the festival is the fireworks display. Blazing fireworks light up the sky, especially during winter, and it’s a rare chance to enjoy. The festival also has tasty foods and sweet rice wine to keep everyone warm. It’s a festive time you wouldn’t want to miss!

Now that you are keenly aware of the history, intrigue, and worthy places to enjoy hanabi matsuri. When the dark sky lights up with bright colors and captivating designs, the magic of hanabi comes alive and brings wonder and joy to everyone. These enchanting moments may create memories that stay in our hearts forever. If you ever get the chance to visit Japan, which enchanting fireworks event would you like to go to? Let us know in the comments below!

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