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Japanese Fireworks Festivals: Then and Now

Linh LeLinh Le
Published Time
Posted on July 20, 2022

No other country knows how to celebrate the changing of seasons like Japan. Just like hanami festivals–cherry blossom viewing festivals–in spring, Japan also has a way of embracing hot summers: firework festivals. Let’s take a look at the origin of this longstanding event and the most renowned Japanese fireworks festivals in the country!

In Japanese, fireworks are called ‘hanabi’ (花火) – a combination of “hana” (flower), and “bi” (fire). Put them together, and the name ‘Hanabi’ creates the image of a flower that, although beautiful, fades like a spark in the air.

Just like how Japanese people cherish their spring festival with cherry blossoms, fireworks festivals are considered a popular public event held every summer, specifically in late July and early August. At these festivals, people usually dress up in yukatas (traditional Japanese summer wear), enjoy delicious Japanese street food from yatai (Japanese street food stalls), and drink cold beer while watching fireworks on hot summer nights with their friends, lovers, and family.

The History Of Hanabi

Many Japanese fireworks go off in a fantastic display of color in various shapes for a finale to a Japanese fireworks festival.
Japanese fireworks festivals have become a massive spectacle full of colors and music. But what about when they first came to Japan? Image via Shutterstock

Fireworks were invented around the 2nd century B.C in China. However, it wasn’t until fireworks were introduced into Japan that they developed into so many different types, making Japan a country with a long tradition of studying and making fireworks. 

It’s all thanks to two talented Japanese firework artists – Kagiya and Tamaya – who contributed to fireworks becoming a genre of art, while making it popular for ordinary people. 

In 1732, Japan suffered a famine nationwide and an outbreak of cholera in Edo (modern day Tokyo), causing many to lose their lives. So, the government decided to organize a fireworks festival in 1733, known as the first fireworks festival, with the hopes of consoling the souls of the departed.  

In the past, fireworks displays were very simple. However, around 1879, Japan expanded trade with many countries and imported new chemicals from abroad. Since then, fireworks have been colorful, with colors like red, blue, or green, and have more distinct shapes that make it even more appealing to viewers.

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Common Types of Hanabi

Warimono (割物) is a type of firework that explodes in a circular shape, with a beam of light like a star. The most common shapes for this type of firework is chrysanthemums or peonies.

Pokamono (ポカ物) are fireworks that, when exploding, can fly in many different directions like a waterfall of light “flowing” from the night sky. They often make a loud sound when exploding and are inspired by images of willow trees (yanagi) and honeycombs (hachi).

Hanwarimono (半割物) is a rather special type of firecracker made by combining half of  warimono and half pokamono. When exploding, the hanwarimono fireworks will form the image of a large flower made up of small fireworks.

Katamono (型物) is one of the most modern firecrackers because, after exploding in the sky, katamono firecrackers create cute images like smileys, hearts, animals, and kawaii (cute) characters.

Famous Summer Firework Festival in Japan

Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai (隅田川花火大会) – Taito, Tokyo

Japanese fireworks create images of various flowers in many different colors over city buildings in the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival.
One of the cool things about this fireworks show is that it’s in the city, so it’s a double view that combines the city skyline with fireworks. Image via Shutterstock

Sumida River Hanabi Taikai (fireworks festival) is Japan’s most famous festival and has the longest history. It is usually held on the fourth Sunday of July every year. About 20,000 fireworks are fired at two locations: from Sakurabashi Bridge to Kototoibashi Bridge and from Komagatabashi Bridge to Umayabashi Bridge. This festival is actually one of our favorite Japanese summer festivals.

Adachi no Hanabi – Adachi, Tokyo

Adachi no Hanabi is held at the end of July with about 13,600 fireworks fired within an hour. You can see the fireworks of this festival from many places, but the two most popular watching spots are Senjugawa (住側) and Nishiaraigawa (新側)

Exciting Hanabi Edogawa – Edogawa, Tokyo

Exciting Hanabi Edogawa is a large-scale fireworks festival in Japan with the impressive opening of 1,000 fireworks continuously for 5 seconds. 14,000 fireworks will be fired under 8 different themes in 75 minutes with many interesting images such as cartoon characters, Mt. Fuji, etc.

Yokohama Sparkling Twilight Festival – Yokohama, Kanagawa.

Yokohama Sparkling Twilight is a traditional fireworks festival in Yokohama City held for 2 consecutive days at Yamashita Park. You can enjoy a variety of entertaining performances, like parades and gourmet events. 

Nagaoka Fireworks Festival – Niigata

Many beautiful Japanese fireworks at the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Niigata, create shapes of flowers from the stem to the petals with whites, reds, and greens.
They may use many similar shapes, but no two fireworks festivals are the same. The Nagaoka Fireworks Festival is one of the best too. Image via Shutterstock

The Nagaoka Fireworks Festival is a festival held to commemorate and revitalize Nagaoka city after it was bombed during World War II. With a ‘memorial’ theme and mixed with music, the fireworks display is like a narrative story told to the audience. It also has the biggest type of firework in Japan with a diameter of 90 cm, called “Shosanshakudama.” Each fireworks display is large in scale, making it one of the most spectacular fireworks festivals in Japan.

Tsuchiura National Fireworks Competition – Ibaraki prefecture

This is a competition for fireworks artists from all over the country to compete, but it focuses on a type of lightning fireworks called Starmine. With a convenient transportation system, every year about 800,000 tourists come to visit this festival.

Omagari Fireworks Festival – Akita prefecture

The official name of this fireworks festival is the “National Fireworks Competition”, and true to the name, this is a competition for fireworks artists from all over the country to come and show off their technical performances. The fireworks techniques debuted at this competition become references for other fireworks festivals in the country. If you have the opportunity to come here, you’ll definitely be able to admire fireworks with the latest technology hardly found anywhere else. 

Have you ever watched a summer fireworks festival in Japan? Share with us your experience in the comment below!

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