The Hottest, Best Known Firework Festivals in Japan and How to Enjoy Them: a Complete Firework Festival Guide
A summer visit to Japan isn’t complete without including a fireworks festival. In this guide we’ll cover not only the Top Three Firework Festivals in Japan, but also other popular fireworks held across the country. You’ll also find some pro tips and important reminders to help you enjoy these events to the fullest, so be sure to read to the end!
Table of Contents
- The Origins of Firework Festivals, a Summer Tradition in Japan
- Top-class in Scale, Beauty, and Number! The Top Three Firework Festivals in Japan
- Six Popular Firework Festivals that Color Japan's Summer
- Three Ways to Enjoy Firework Festivals 120%
- Three Points to Keep in Mind at Firework Festivals
- Frequently Asked Questions about Firework Festivals
The Origins of Firework Festivals, a Summer Tradition in Japan
The history of firework festivals in Japan dates back to 1733. At that time, Japan saw a large mortality rate due to famine and spreading epidemics. In order to mourn the deceased and to ward off the evil spirits believed to be the cause of famine and disease, the "Water God Festival" was held on the day of the Sumida River opening. During the festival, fireworks were launched to commemorate the deceased, and this marked the roots of today's firework festivals.
The colorful event was well-liked by the people of Edo, who loved vibrant spectacles. Furthermore, the festival was a perfect way to spend a summer evening at ease, giving people to enjoy the night breeze by the river while watching fireworks. As a result, firework festivals became a staple of Japan's summer traditions.
Top-class in Scale, Beauty, and Number! The Top Three Firework Festivals in Japan
Countless fireworks festivals are held across Japan from summer to autumn. Among them, the particularly popular ones are referred to as the "Three Great Firework Festivals of Japan," attracting many spectators from across Japan and around the world. From grandeur and scale to sheer gorgeous visuals, here is a round up of what makes the Three Great Firework Festivals of Japan such a top-notch spectacle to behold.
1. Omagari Fireworks Festival
The Omagari Fireworks Festival got its start as a special festival showcase held by Suwa Shrine in Omagari, Akita, in 1910 (Meiji 43). Now a summer tradition in Akita, fireworks artisans from all over the country gather to compete for the title of Japan's best with their best-wrought displays.
During the competition, the festival organizers set off a “wide-scale starmine”, a grand spectacle with a year in the making, that features layer after layer of star mines launched in unison with the music. This breathtaking display makes such a buzz that many spectators comes from all around just to see it specifically.
Every year, about 700,000 people gather from not only Japan but also overseas. The popularity of the event is such that after the fireworks festival ends, traffic jams continue in various parts of the city until late at night.
2. Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition
The origin of this fireworks festival dates back to 1925 when the chief priest of Tsuchiura City, Ibaraki Prefecture, held a fireworks display on the shores of Lake Kasumigaura. The event commemorated the fallen members of the aviation corps and aimed to revitalize the economy of Tsuchiura, which had fallen into recession.
Counted among the "Top Three Fireworks Festivals in Japan," the showcase draws nearly 650,000 spectators annually. It's also important to note that it's the only one of the three major fireworks festivals held in November rather than summer.
The Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition is a contest where fireworks artisans from all over Japan compete, and it's also known as a competition to determine the "number one star mine in Japan." A star mine is a type of launched firework, characterized by the powerful display of dozens to hundreds of shells being launched simultaneously, and is often used in the finale of fireworks festivals.
Why not visit the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition and catch some of the grandest fireworks in Japan?
3. Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
One of the top three fireworks festivals in Japan, this event adds color to the summer of Niigata. Its origin dates back to the Nagaoka air raid on August 1, 1945, which claimed many lives. The following year, the "Nagaoka Reconstruction Festival" was held to honor the dead and wish for Nagaoka's recovery.
In 1947, the fireworks festival was also revived. Traditionally, on August 1st at 10:30 PM, the anniversary of the Nagaoka air raid, three large, white, spherical shells are launched, and the bell of mourning is sounded. As a result, the fireworks festival is held on August 2nd and 3rd every year.
Featuring the famous "Sanjakudama (30-inch) Fireworks," which create huge 650-meter diameter flower-like patterns in the night sky, and the luxurious set-piece fireworks "Niagara Super-Large Star Mine," the festival offers a succession of large-scale fireworks that fill the entire field of view with unforgettable displays.
6 Popular Fireworks Festivals That Add Color to Summer in Japan
In addition to the "Top 3 Fireworks Festivals in Japan," there are countless other captivating fireworks festivals across the country. Below is a carefully selected list of popular and highly acclaimed fireworks festivals that are close contenders behind the top three.
1. Sumida River Fireworks Festival
The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is the oldest fireworks festival in Japan, known as the root of Japan’s fireworks festivals. It is held every year on the last Saturday of July on the banks of the Sumida River, with fireworks launched from two locations: the first venue from Sakurabashi downstream to Kototoibashi upstream, and the second venue from Komagatabashi downstream to Umaya Bridge upstream.
The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is the only such event where you can enjoy the powerful display of about 20,000 fireworks along with Tokyo's landmarks such as high-rise buildings, Tokyo Tower, and Tokyo Skytree. You can enjoy the fireworks in various situations unique to Tokyo, such as having dinner at a restaurant while watching the fireworks, or looking up at the fireworks from a traditional Japanese houseboat floating on the Sumida River.
2. Lake Suwa Fireworks Festival
Held every August on Suwa Lake in Nagano Prefecture, the Lake Suwa Fireworks Festival began in 1949 with the hope that citizens would recover quickly from the war. The scale of the event has grown year by year, now seeing as many as 500,000 spectators at this larger-than-life fireworks festival.
The highlights of the Lake Suwa Fireworks Festival are the sheer number of fireworks filling the sky above the lake and the booming sound of the fireworks that reverberates deep within the body. Suwa Lake, where the fireworks are launched, is surrounded by mountains on all sides, creating an echo chamber off the mountain cliffs. This remarkable display is truly a delight to the eyes and ears.
3. Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival
Held every August at the Shin-Yodogawa in Osaka City, the "Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival" brings a colorful array of fireworks at such a large scale that its hard to believe it takes place in the heart of the city. With this event you’ll find breathtaking “wide-scale star mines” that set off an awe-inspiring array of multiple bursts at once, and even underwater fireworks, that burst underwater to reveal a dazzling semi-circle on the water’s surface. Prepare to see the cityscape at night against a backdrop of larger-than-life fireworks like never before.
4. Minato HANABI
"Minato HANABI" stands as the successor to the "Minato Kobe Fireworks Festival" which took place at Kobe Port in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. This small-scale, decentralized fireworks event takes place over five days every October, giving visitors the convenience of multiple opportunities to attend. The display, which fills the entire sea with fireworks and bursts as they fall into the sea is one you are sure to never forget. As a special treat, there are even “musical fireworks” where fireworks are launched in sync with music at the Meriken Park viewing area.
5. Naruto City Awa Odori, Firework
Awa Odori, a summer tradition in Tokushima Prefecture boasts over 400 years of history and worldwide buzz from Japan and overseas. Every August, you can find Awa Odori held in a variety of spots across the prefecture, but the flagship event is always "Naruto City Awa Odori,", held in the city center of Naruto from August 9th to 11th.
The day before the Naruto City Awa Odori, the prefecture’s largest cool-evening fireworks festival is held on the banks of Nuyagawa River. You can catch a view of the fireworks from anywhere along the river, which draws visitors from both in and outside the prefecture.
6. Ashikaga Fireworks Festival
The "Ashikaga Fireworks Festival" can be found every August, held at the banks of the Watarase River. This age old tradition got its start over 110 years ago since it began in 1903.
With approximately 25,000 fireworks launched, it boasts one of the largest scales in the Kanto region. Every year, more than 500,000 spectators gather, earning it the nickname "Cool Evenings of the 500,000."
The annual Shaku-dama fireworks, elaborate set-piece fireworks, and famous Meidama fireworks created by renowned fireworks masters fill the dark blue night sky, creating a spectacular sight.
Three Ways to Enjoy Fireworks Festivals 120%
In Japan, firework festivals are a quintessential part of summer. It's not just about watching the fireworks, but also about experiencing the atmosphere of a traditional Japanese festival. By following the three enjoyment tips we're about to introduce, you'll be able to get the most out of your firework festival experience—120% satisfaction guaranteed!
1. Watching Fireworks in a Yukata
You can't fully experience the atmosphere of a festival without wearing a yukata. During the Edo period, when firework festivals originated, it was popular to wear yukatas when attending festivals or cherry blossom viewings. Since then, it has been commonplace to enjoy firework festivals while wearing a yukata. Many shops around the festival venue offer yukata rentals, so you don't need to worry if you don't have your own.
2. Enjoy Gourmet Food and Games at Food Stalls
At fireworks festivals, there are often food stalls set up around the venue, offering a wide variety of festival fare like takoyaki, yakisoba, and shaved ice, as well as games like goldfish scooping and shooting. Arriving a little before the fireworks are launched and enjoying the food and games at these stalls is also one of the highlights of fireworks festivals.
3. When beautiful fireworks are launched, shout out loud
Since the Edo period, spectators are known to yell out “Tamaya!” and “Kagiya!” at particularly grand displays. Originally, at the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, a pyrotechnician called "Tamaya" would launch fireworks upstream, while "Kagiya" would launch them downstream. The custom started as people shouted the names of the pyrotechnicians who launched impressive fireworks.
While it would be more appropriate to shout the actual name of the pyrotechnician who launched the beautiful fireworks, nowadays, people shout "Tamaya!" and "Kagiya!" for any fireworks. Don't be shy, and give it a try by joining in on the shouts.
Three Points to Keep in Mind at Firework Festivals
Its not without saying that some spectators miss the best parts of fireworks festivals because they weren’t fully prepared. To avoid this situation and make the most of your trip, check out these 3 tips below.
1. Event Dates and Times Can Change Depending on the Weather
The event date may be changed, or the time may be moved earlier or later due to weather conditions. Make sure to frequently check the weather forecast and the official website from the day before the event, and be prepared to adapt to any changes.
2. Some Spots May Have Poor Visibility Due to Crowds or Buildings
It's a waste if you attend a firework festival but can't see the fireworks due to crowds or buildings. Research prime firework-viewing spots online beforehand and move to those spots a little before the fireworks start. Doing so should allow you to enjoy the beautiful and powerful fireworks at your leisure. Depending on the firework festival, laying down a picnic sheet to reserve a spot in a prime viewing location may be allowed.
3. Transportation Can Be Crowded Before and After Fireworks Festivals
Popular fireworks festivals often result in crowded trains, buses, and taxis on the day of the event. Make sure to allow for extra time to account for the congestion. Especially after the fireworks have ended, there can be long lines at ticket booths, and trains may be too crowded to board. It's recommended to either leave the area just before the fireworks end or wait for some time after the event before using public transportation. Alternatively, you could try walking from the nearest station to the festival venue to the next station, which might help you avoid the congestion.
Frequently Asked Questions about Fireworks Festivals
What should I bring to a fireworks festival?
An umbrella is essential, as summer in Japan often brings sudden rain. If you plan to sit and watch the fireworks, bringing a picnic sheet will make your experience more comfortable.
Are there any dress code etiquette for attending fireworks festivals?
There are no specific etiquette rules regarding dress code. However, it's recommended to wear light clothing that can get dirty, as you'll likely be walking in crowded and hot conditions.
How can I avoid transportation congestion during the fireworks festival?
To avoid congestion, either start heading home a bit before the festival ends or wait for some time after the event before using public transportation. Another suggestion is to walk from the nearest station to a slightly farther station and board the train there.
We have introduced popular fireworks festivals as well as tips and points for fully enjoying these events. If you're planning your trip around a fireworks festival, the "Three Great Fireworks Festivals of Japan" are highly recommended. If you already have a destination in mind, why not consider participating in the closest popular fireworks festival introduced in this article? Experience the atmosphere of a Japanese summer through the seasonal tradition of fireworks festivals.
Also, to fully enjoy the Japanese summer, refer to this article that introduces popular and famous swimming pools in Japan.