A Brilliant Midsummer’s Night in Adachi

Summers in Tokyo are notoriously hot and humid with heat waves lasting weeks at a time. While all you want to do during the day is stay inside to escape the heat, the nights, on the other hand, entice us out with promises of some of the year’s most exciting events. Continue reading “A Brilliant Midsummer’s Night in Adachi”

Summer Festivals: Adachi Fireworks

It’s that time of the year again: FESTIVAL SEASON! Nothing says summer in Japan more than fireworks displays, colourful yukata, beer gardens, awa dances, Obon and Tanabata!! It’s the party season, i.e. the best time to get out with your friends and enjoy life!

Kicking off my new “summer festivals” series is a fireworks festival by the name of Adachi no Hanabi.

The Adachi Fireworks is Tokyo’s first major summer fireworks festival of the year. It takes place on the Arakawa River for an audience of roughly 610,000. This year, it was on Saturday July 19.

I got together with two friends, all of us excited to be wearing our yukata (summer kimono), and headed out to Kitasenju in northern Tokyo. Just as our train pulled up at the station, the worst possible thing happened: it started to rain. I was afraid it would be a repeat of the Sumidagawa Fireworks last year, which got cancelled because of a storm. With our fingers crossed, we decided to brave the wind and rain and make a dash for the riverbank. However, Mother Nature had other plans, and the rain got stronger and stronger. We got about half way and were forced to take refuge in a bicycle parking lot. There was still 20 minutes left until the fireworks were to start, and we were just praying the rain would stop. It eventually died down enough for us to keep going. No matter what, we were going to get to that river!

By the time we got to the site, the rain was pouring again and we were drenched. It was almost funny. We had been so excited for this night, and just like that, it looked like it would be all over before it even started. The view of the riverbank was a pretty sad sight! The rain had sent everyone running for cover under a big bridge, and left the area almost deserted.

7:30pm came, and astonishingly, the first fireworks was shot up in the air. Forgetting about the cold rain, people excitedly rushed out from under the bridge. I almost wanted to cheer out loud! And what was even more awesome, about 15 minutes in, the rain stopped completely and it turned out to be a great fireworks display! What a tease, Mother Nature!

Up next: Shinjuku Eisa Festival

Cool Japan!

Recently, I taught a unit on “Cool Japan” to my Year 11 students. Cool Japan is this ongoing campaign to promote Japanese culture to the world and basically tell them why this country is ‘cool’. If you ask me, it’s a bit of an ego-boost for the Japanese! They are quietly proud people. But actually, the goal is to increase business and trade overseas. The brand ‘Cool Japan’ was used in the successful bid for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. And there’s a TV program of the same name on NHK, where they get a bunch of foreigners to give their opinions about certain topics like Mt Fuji, cosplay, gift wrapping, castles, expressing gratitude, advertisements, etc etc.

I got my students to think of their top 10 favourite things about living in Japan. The most common? Safety. You don’t need to worry about things getting stolen or getting mugged in a dark alley. Japan is a safe country. Not that most of these teenagers have even been outside of Japan to experience an ‘unsafe’ country, but they are not wrong! It’s definitely a major plus point for Japan. Their other ideas were things like manga (comic books), food, J-pop music, tea ceremonies, and flower arranging. It’s nice to see they still appreciate traditional culture too.

So what do I think is coolest about Japan? The FOUR SEASONS! And specifically, how Japanese people have made the seasons such an important part of their lives.

Spring is a warm and happy time. The fleeting cherry blossoms come around March and April and everyone rushes out to enjoy a hanami picnic under the pink and white petaled trees.

After a brief rainy season, hot and humid summer descends. July and August is when all of the major fireworks festivals happen. Literally millions of people get dressed up in summer yukata and drink beer and eat yakitori under the spectacular night shows.

Autumn is always a welcome relief after the exhausting heat. In November the momiji maple trees turn from green to red to yellow to brown before gracefully falling to earth. People flock to places like the ancient temples of Kyoto to witness this gorgeous natural display of colours.

As the momiji leaves drop, so does the temperature. Winter is long and gloomy. But it’s not all bad. Japan has some of the best snow in the world, like Hokkaido, famous for its dry powder snow. For skiers and snowboarders, and strange people who like the cold, this is the best time of the year.

Then, the snow melts, scarves and gloves are put away, and spring returns once again.

I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that is quite like Japan.

Changes in Nature
Summer sunflowers at Shirakawago, Gifu; Spring cherry blossoms in Tokyo;
Autumn maple trees at Tofukuji temple, Kyoto; Winter snow monkeys at Jigokudani, Nagano.

Nature

One scene, Four seasons

shunkashuto

Making the most of every season

Spring: Hanami under the cherry blossoms at Kinuta Park, Tokyo

Spring: Hanami (cherry blossom viewing)Summer: Edogawa Fireworks Festival, Tokyo [attendance about 1.5 million people!]

Summer: Edogawa Fireworks Festival

Autumn: Koyo (maple leaves viewing) at Tofukuji, Kyoto

Autumn: Koyo (maple leaves viewing)

Winter: snow sports at Kiroro Resort, Hokkaido

Winter: snow sports

What are some of the popular seasonal events where you live?

If you’ve visited Japan, what did you think was ‘cool’?  I want to know!! :-)

Edo River Fireworks Festival 2013

Now this is what I’ve been waiting for!!! An incredible display of some of the most enormous, colourful fireworks! After the Sumida River Fireworks were cancelled last week because of rain, and since I’ll be going overseas in a couple of days, this was the last chance I had to see one of the major fireworks festivals in 2013. And I was far from disappointed! I’ll let the photos do the talking…

A spectacular grand finale.
A spectacular grand finale.

Photo Story: The not-so-great Sumidagawa Fireworks

Well, what can I say. One of the biggest fireworks festivals in the country, certainly the most popular in Tokyo, took an unexpected turn. Here’s what went down…

Ryogoku Station
We arrived at a bustling Ryogoku Station at 5pm.
Blue skies
The skies were blue and promising.
Ready with our tarp
Ready with our sheet!
Zip Morning Television
Zip Morning Television interviewing some spectators.
Police
Plenty of police for crowd and traffic control.
Ready to secure our spot
Getting ready to secure our spot on the road. The police closed off one lane at a time.
Talking tactics
Talking tactics. Who will take which corner of the sheet? Which direction will we run? We even discussed it over with our neighbours so we wouldn’t be stepping over each other! This is how it’s done in Japan.
The wait
The street has been closed off. Just waiting for 6pm sharp when the rope will be taken down! Everyone is on this side of the road as the other side is kept open as an emergency lane.
The result
As soon as the rope was removed, everyone dashed out onto the road. 10 seconds later, this was the result.
The result
Everyone wanted the centre of the road for the best view.
All settled
All settled. People as far as the eye can see, in both directions!
Happy and Excited
Happy and excited
Good times
Good times
So lucky to have this special feed
We were so lucky to have been invited to join another party with this special feed!!
Strawberry Chou Ice
Also got this Strawberry Chou Ice for free!

The first fireworks event started further up the river at 7:20pm.
The second fireworks event (that we were going to see), was due to start 10 minutes later.

At about 7:25pm, we started feeling sprinkles of rain.
About 1 minute later, the heavens opened!
The loudest thunder, the brightest lightning, and SO MUCH rain!

Everyone dashed for cover. Amazingly, the 7:30pm fireworks began on the dot, and everyone ran back out onto the street.

The Heavens opened
Everyone was quick to pack up their party, and take out the umbrellas (I guess some people were prepared!)
Sumidagawa Fireworks
It was awesome to see the fireworks lighting up one part of the sky – and lightning lighting up the rest!! Spectacular!
Braving the Rain
Braving the rain. Sheets turned into covers!
Taking Cover
It just got heavier and heavier. After a couple of minutes, everyone gave up and dashed under buildings, taking cover.

At about 7:40pm, there was an announcement… “The Sumidagawa Fireworks have been CANCELLED”. 

The rain was so heavy we decided to stay under cover and wait it out. About 40 minutes later, the storm finally calmed down and we went on our way.  

We will be back with a vengeance next year!

Colouring the Night Sky: Hanabi Season

Feelin’ HOT HOT HOT! Summer has descended in all of its sunny, warm and humid glory. The temperature went above and beyond the forecast today, reaching 36°C ! And summer in Japan means one thing… the beginning of Hanabi season!!

Like many countries, Japan takes pyrotechnics very seriously, and you can be sure whether it’s at Disneyland or a national fireworks competition, you will see a well-synchronised, spectacular, colourful show. I did a bit of research so I could share with you the top fireworks festivals, as well as to make sure I don’t miss out on any! There are loads of smaller fireworks festivals especially around Shinjuku, but the top summer festivals are found in Tokyo’s outer suburbs of Itabashi, Adachi, Katsushika and Edogawa, as well as the inner suburbs of Sumida and Chuo.

Tokyo Wards - fireworks locations
Tokyo wards –  top fireworks festivals locations

Here are the top festivals, ordered by date…

第35回足立の花火

The first fireworks festival to get the party started is the Adachi Fireworks Festival. It’s also currently ranked the most popular fireworks show in Japan!
When >> July 20th 2013, 7:30pm-8:30pm
Where >> Ara River in Adachi ward
Visitors >> About 590,000 people
Size >> 12,000 fireworks, 4 shows:
1) fireworks representing the 4 seasons
2) fireworks in all sorts of shapes and famous characters
3) fireworks synchronised with a music soundtrack, including the “Niagara Falls” fireworks
4) fireworks synchronised with music. The climax of the show this year will be fireworks in the form of a “full-bloom cherry blossom tree”!

*****

第47回葛飾納涼花火大会

Next is the Katsushika Cool Summer Evening Fireworks Festival.
When >> July 23rd 2013, 7:20pm-8:20pm
Where >> Edo River, Katsushika ward
Visitors >> About 580,000 people
Size >> 12,000 fireworks

Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival. Image by calvinmyjourney.
Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival. Image by calvinmyjourney.

*****

第36回 隅田川花火大会

One of the oldest and most famous fireworks shows in Tokyo is the Sumida River Fireworks Festival.
When >> July 27th 2013, 7:05pm-8:30pm
Where >> Sumida River, Sumida ward (near Asakusa)
Visitors >> About 950,000 people
Size >> First site = 10,716 fireworks; Second site = 12,050 fireworks

Image by てんどん (http://photozou.jp/photo/show/141110/145311514) [CC-BY-2.1-jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.1/jp/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sumida River Fireworks and Tokyo SkyTree. Image by てんどん.

*****

第54回いたばし花火大会

Kicking off the August festivals is the Itabashi Fireworks Festival.
When >> August 3rd 2013, 7:00pm-8:45pm
Where > Ara River, Itabashi ward
Visitors >> About 520,000 people
Size >> 11,000 fireworks

*****

第38回江戸川区花火大会

On the same day as the Itabashi Festival, is the massive Edogawa Fireworks Festival.
When >> August 3rd 2013, 7:15pm-8:30pm
Where >> Edo River, Edogawa ward
Visitors >> About 900,000 people
Size >> 14,000 fireworks

*****

第25回東京湾大華火祭

Another hugely popular August festival is the Tokyo Bay Fireworks Festival.
When >> August 10th 2013, 6:50pm-8:10pm
Where >> Tokyo Bay, Chuo ward
Visitors >> About 650,000 people
Size >> 12,000 fireworks

Tokyo Bay Fireworks 2012. Image by Norio Nakayama [http://www.flickr.com/photos/norio-nakayama/7766652600/]
Tokyo Bay Fireworks 2012. Image by Norio Nakayama.
For more information on fireworks in Tokyo and around Japan, visit Hanabi Walkerplus.