Awe-inspiring “Phoenix” fireworks over Shinano River at Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in 2016.
From July to early September, there are countless summer festivals held nationwide in Japan. Most of them are associated with the custom of the Bon Festival that celebrates ancestors’ spirits during a certain period in summer. Hanabi (fireworks), literally translated as “fire of flowers,” are often a symbol of consolation for the deceased. Beautiful hanabi in the sky do not only amuse us but also the deceased—That is the Japanese people’s sentiment toward hanabi in summer. Here we introduce upscale firework festivals you should visit.
Attracting 960,000 visitors in two days in August, the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Niigata Prefecture is one of the most popular and prestigious firework festivals in Japan. 20,000 hanabi are set off over the Shinano River, the longest river in Japan. The widest set of hanabi encompasses about 2.8 kilometers (1.74 miles) and the single biggest hanabi is 650 meters (711 yards) in diameter when opening in the sky. The festival started in 1946 as a one-year memorial of the Nagaoka air raid that took the lives of 1484 citizens in the city on August 1st in 1945 at the end of World War II. The festival is now a tourist attraction, but it still maintains the original spirit behind it, and on the eve of the festival on August 1, three hanabi are set off for a memorial of the deceased and a prayer for peace.
Dynamic yet elegant, hanabi in Japan represents Japanese craftsmanship and aesthetic sense, and if you like to see such artisan works, go to Oomagari no Hanabi held in Akita Prefecture. It is not only a festival, but more importantly a competition where major hanabi craftspeople from all over Japan gather and showcase their creations. Among several hanabi competitions in Japan, it is considered to be particularly prestigious, in the sense that the hanabi are lit by the hanabi creators themselves and important prizes are awarded, including the Prime Minister Prize.
Hanabi looks magnificent when reflected on water. In that sense, you cannot miss Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo and Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival in Nagano Prefecture. The former is well-known overseas due to the beautiful hanabi show with the city of Tokyo as a backdrop. The view of big-size hanabi along with Tokyo Skytree (2,080 feet tall) is particularly stunning. The latter is held at Suwa Lake located on a high elevation (760 meters) surrounded by mountains. This hanabi festival that sets off about 40,000 fireworks from the man-made island in the lake is one of the most upscale in Japan. Viewers can see the hanabi not only from the lakeside, but also from sightseeing boats on the lake.
Each community has its own version of fireworks festival, so when you have a chance to visit Japan in summer, look into a calendar to find one. It’s recommended to go to the actual festival site, but you still can see beautiful fireworks from nearby to enjoy beautiful artworks in the sky.
Nagaoka Fireworks Foundation
Phoenix East 6th Fl., Ote-dori Bldg.
Nagaoka City Office
2-6 Otedori, Nagaoka City, Niigata
Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
With over 70 years of history, Nagaoka Fireworks Festival is dynamic and elegant at the same time. The flowers blooming over Shinano River attract spectators from all over the world.
Oomagari no Hanabi
Also known as All Japan Fireworks Competition, Omagari no Hanabi began as a competition between hanabi producers in the Tohoku region in 1910, and it has developed into an event attracting participants nationwide.
Sumida River Fireworks Festival
The festival’s origin dates back to nearly 300 years ago, but this year marks the 40th anniversary of the festival since it was renamed and re-established as the Sumida River Fireworks Festival.
Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival
Beautiful reflections on the lake make the show even more striking. The place also hosts a fireworks competition focusing on new style fireworks in September.