Fireworks are a huge deal in Japan and during the summer there are Japanese fireworks festivals practically every weekend. In Japan, they are called Hanabi festivals (Hanabi meaning fireworks).
Practically all the major Japanese firework shows take place in July, August, and September. The annual extravaganza is a long-standing tradition that is very popular with locals.
The displays are renowned for being spectacular, breathtaking, and innovative. The Hanabi shows normally last around two hours and viewers normally enjoy the range of traditional Japanese dishes and snacks which are on offer.
If you’re in Japan this summer, you should check one out. Here is a list of the best eight yearly Hanabi festivals.
Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
Nagaoka (Niigata prefecture) is one of the biggest fireworks festivals in Japan. It started shortly after WWII and the phoenix-shaped fireworks quickly became a symbol of Japanese recovery. The deceased are still mourned throughout the moving festival. Over 20,000 fireworks are set off including giant 650-meter sanshakudama fireworks. The finale of the show covers two kilometers of the Shinano River making it the widest span of fireworks in the world.
- Dates: The Nagaoka Fireworks Festival is celebrated form 1st to 3rd August.
- Access: To get there, you can use your JR Pass and take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Nagaoka Station and walk 20 minutes from there to the festival venue.
Omagari Fireworks Competition
Firework makers gather along the Omono River in Daisen city (Akita prefecture) to show off their craftsmanship and creativity and to compete for the prestigious prize. The competition started in 1910 and has continued to grow.
More than 600,000 people flock to Daisen from all over Japan to witness the jaw-dropping show. Omagari is the only Japanese fireworks festival that also includes a daytime display where colored smoke paints the sky.
- Dates: Late August (varies by year)
- Access: You can take Tohoku and Akita Shinkasen to Omagari Station, a raid covered by your JR Pass.
Tsuchiura Fireworks Competition
The Tsuchiura is one of the most innovative and spectacular Japanese fireworks festivals though it’s not well-known by tourists. Cutting-edge technology combines with imaginative designs to produce a truly breathtaking display.
It originated in 1925 as a memorial service for deceased naval officers and has now evolved into a truly unique display. It takes place in the small town of Tsuchiura and many people enjoy a picnic before and during the show.
- Dates: Tsuchiura Fireworks Competition is held late October.
- Access: To go there by train, you can take the Joban Line from Tokyo to Tsuchiura, covered with your JR Pass.
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Held in Tokyo, this festival dates back to 1733 so it’s rich in history and tradition. The competition between the fireworks makers is fierce but produces an outstanding display.
Around a million spectators gather to see the 20,000 fireworks of every color and shape imaginable. It’s so popular that it can be difficult to get a good view as every possible vantage point becomes prime real estate for the big event. However, it’s definitely worth the hassle.
- Dates: Last Saturday in July
- Access: To get there, you can go to Asakusa Station in Tokyo.
Kumano Fireworks Festival
Against the backdrop of the Kumano-nada Sea, over 10,000 fireworks are launched from boats, making this exhibition truly unique. It is Kumano’s signature annual event and its history goes back 300 years.
In recent years the display has become renowned for its self-exploding Onigajo fireworks. One of the highlights is when two of the ships launch fireworks against the cliffs to produce spectacular visual and sound effects. Visitors can enjoy the display from Shichirigahama Beach.
- Dates: Kumano Fireworks Festival is held every August 17.
- Access: To get there from Tokyo, you can take the Tokaido Shinkansen to Nagoya and then the JR Nanki Limited Express to Kumanoshi, covered by the JR Pass.
Kachimai Fireworks Festival
Kachimai was first held in 1929 as Hokkaido’s first-ever firework display and today, with around 20,000 fireworks, it is one of Japan’s largest fireworks festivals. The whole show is synchronized to music and each year’s display promises new surprises.
The symbol of the Kachimai Fireworks Display is the Nishiki Kamuro firework which sprays golden sparks and lights up the night sky. The festival is a precursor event for the Heigen Matsuri.
- Dates: Kachimai Fireworks Festival is held in Obihiro, a city of the Tokachi sub-prefecture in Hokkaido, August 13rd.
- Access: It is a long trip to get to Obihiro from Tokyo. The best way to get there is by train using the Tohoku and Hokkaido Shinkansen lines to Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station. From there, go to Minami Chitose station with a Limited Express Super Hakuto and then take the Sekisho line to Obihiro.
Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival
Naniwa Yodogawa is the youngest of the festivals on the list. A group of volunteers launched it in 1989 as part of a wider effort to breathe life into Osaka. The event is known for its special, hand-made fireworks.
Osaka is known as the city of water as it contains so many rivers. During this festival, crowds gather on the riverbanks with chairs and picnics so it’s important to get there early.
- Dates: Held in Osaka, near the Yodo River, on the first Saturday of August.
- Access: You can go there from Tokyo taking the Tokaido Shinkasen line.
Miyajima Fireworks Festival
With around 200,000 spectators and roughly 5,000 fireworks, Miyajima is not one of the biggest Japanese fireworks festivals. However, it has a reputation as one of the most special.
The fireworks are launched from the water off the shore of Miyajima and cast stunning reflections on the surface of the sea. The outline of the Itsukushima Shrine against the backdrop of the explosions has a unique charm.
- Dates: Late August (varies by year).
- Access: To get there, you can take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Miyamaguchi Station, and reach Itsukushima with a JR ferry, covered by JR Pass.
Credit for images copyrighted by JNTO ©JNTO