As has become customary for us, we attended the Sumida Fireworks Festival this year for the 4th time I think, since I came to Japan. It was spectacular as usual and crowded as usual also. Thanks to the British and Irish pub, The Warrior Celt, in Ueno we had one of the best spots. Actually, some trees did kind of get in the way but the fact is we had an enormous private space, whereas most other people were standing room only, squashed into the public areas often with nowhere to sit or with completely obscured views of the fireworks. In that sense we were really lucky, so thanks to the organisers Andy and Miwa for securing the spot.
I also took my new Canon EOS Kiss X4, also known as the 550D/Rebel T2i. It was the first time for me to shoot fireworks so it took me a while to set it up to get some OK pictures. Also, the wind was blowing straight towards us so the smoke was drifting and obscuring the fireworks and this was much more noticeable in the camera which was using a slow shutter speed and a tripod. Still, I was pretty pleased with the results as a ‘first attempt’ and it was good learning experience. Also, I have to say thanks to Yasuo-San who was on-hand to give me tips and advice on how to best set up the camera for fireworks.
This year, 50% of fireworks displays in the greater Tokyo area were cancelled in respect to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region. There was also a set of loud ‘bangers’ kind of like a military salute halfway through the display. Tokyo is virtually back to normal, but people haven’t forgotten about those who died or those without homes in the north of Japan.
It’s the height of summer in Tokyo and all over the city firework displays are being held, as is the tradition all over Japan at this time of year. The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi 花火, literally: ‘fire flowers’, and this theme influences the way they are designed and appreciated in Japan.
For example, this year, I went to Koto-ku firework display where a commentator introduces each section of the one-and-a-half hour display, explaining which flower the fireworks are supposed to resemble (Japan’s national flower, the chrysanthemum, is pretty common), and sometimes which animal or symbol. I even heard there is a Doraemon head firework at some festivals. As usual, Japan outdoes every other country I know of in these events with huge displays using domestically produced fireworks. Also, there isn’t just one display in Tokyo, but over twenty each attracting thousands of people. As well as Koto-ku, I also made it to a prime spot for downtown Asakusa’s display held on the banks of the Sumida river.
Film fans will recognise the picture that introduces this post as Takeshi Kitano’s painting which was featured in his movie of the same name, Hanabi. If you’re in Tokyo right now, I seriously recommend catching the big one at Tokyo Bay (Aug 14th) and the one in my own neck of the woods, Edogawa-ku (Aug 7th).
UPDATE: Taken with my iPhone, so a bit blurry, but it gives you an idea of size:
Finally, I’ve uploaded the videos of the Asakusa Hanabi Matsuri (Fireworks Festival). I had forgotten about them and left them languishing in iPhoto. These should give folks a good idea of what it’s like at the Summer festivals in Tokyo. Really enjoyable. You can still check out the photoset at flickr too, if you haven’t already.
I’ll embed the vids here too, so it’s easier for everyone.
Finally they’re up. Head over to my flickr for a look at what the annual Hanabi in Asakusa was like this year. High points for me were the beautiful Kimonos and cool traditional outfits being sported by the locals, the choatic atmosphere, and the hugely spectacular hour-and-a-half long firework display.