Sumida River Fireworks Festival

On the last Saturday I went out to watch the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, the oldest and most famous fireworks festival in Japan.

As there is an official web site in English, I don't want to go into details in its historical background. However, I want to underline that Japanese people have some ideas about the festival, for example, the special rivalry between two fireworks makers Tamaya and Kagiya in the early 19th century. A woodblock print by Ando Hiroshige depicting the scene of fireworks festival is also known well.

I usually hesitate to go to crowded places like the Sumida River Fireworks Festival. The Festival is so popular that every year nearly one million people go to the event site and the number of visitors is increasing year by year! But, I decided to watch the fireworks live this year, because I have a special advantage; Takei-san, our viola player of the Torakyo, has an elegant apartment house with a good view to the two fireworks sites of the Festival and she is generous enough to open her house for fireworks watching and welcome us with homemade delicacies and lots of alcohol.

Though the Festival starts at 7 o'clock, she warned us not to come so close to the starting time, otherwise we might not reach her house because of tight traffic control including pedestrians. Therefore, I used the Ginza subway line and reached the Asakusa station THREE HOURS in advance. However, when the Asakusa station approached, the cars became extremely crowded as if it were in the midst of rush hour. The crowd was mostly young people wearing "yukata". It's fine to see young people in yukata. But, they do not know the proper way of wearing yukata. Anyhow, I want to accept their nonchalant style, because I find it important that the tradition of wearing kimono has revived among young people.

A young couple wearing kimono walk over Azuma bridge at around 4 o'clock.

People start celebrating on roof balconies.
Many people who do not have a priviledge to be invited by neighbors must sit on the street.
On the surface, people were working busily for setting up the Festival. When the Festival starts, the vast area is closed for traffic and people are allowed to sit on the designated streets and look on the fireworks. Already in the early afternoon thousands of people started to occupy places under glaring sunshine. Roadside restaurants and shops open booths to sell tidbits usual for festivals such as fried noodle and deep-fried chicken.

Sumida River - Behind the iron bridge, there is a site for shooting off fireworks.

Contrary to the people waiting under sunshine, we could spend comfortable time in an air-conditioned room with delicious food - fresh spring-roll, fried-and-cooked eggplants and homely smoked mackerel were especially tasty - and drinks, and waited for the starting time. Some 15 minutes before the official started a sort of prior notice boomed and we went up to the roof balcony. From other rooms many family members and gests also came up to the balcony and we watched together the fireworks. On the nearby roof balconies, parties had already started and red lanterns were swinging in the breeze.

Before the sky did not become completely dark, fireworks already started at the remote site. Against the dimming sky, fireworks were increasing their brightness and beauty. At seven thirty the nearby site started sending up fireworks and the onlookers on the street below our balcony shouted loudly for joy and applauded, as they could only see the fireworks of the nearer site. For us on the roof balcony, the fireworks from the near site were more impressive because of their size in the sky and their roaring sounds.

Residents of the apartment house are watching fireworks from the top of their building.
The total number of fireworks of the Festival was 20,000. This is the biggest number among fireworks festivals in Tokyo and the Festival was highly lively, though the largest fireworks - the biggest firework has about 1.2m in diameter - could not be used, as Sumida River is not much wide and flowing through highly crowded city districts. There were not only onlookers sitting of the road, but also going around in the area. A policeman kept announcing in a friendly manner "if you have taken one good photo of fireworks, please walk further and give chance to other people!".

When the end of the Festival approached, the fireworks contest had its high time and we could watch really dramatic and impressive fireworks. When the last fireworks exploded at eight thirty sharp, traffic control ended and onlookers started heading home. We resumed our drinking session so that we could evade the traffic congestion.

I saw lots of fireworks which were indeed enough for my entire life.