The first time I was ever asked to go see a fireworks display with someone I said, “Sure, why not?” I obviously did not exude enough enthusiasm. Fireworks are such a big deal in Japan they warrant festivals where young women don summer kimono and eat from food stalls on the street among thousands of other festival-goers.
Whereas on my planet, the United States, fireworks are related to special events, in Japan they are an essential part of summer. Everyone, young and old, after having frozen to death in their cold houses all winter long, looks forward to the summer season when they can defrost the dog and thaw out and revive Grandma.
It shouldn’t be such a surprise that Japanese love fireworks. There’s something about the Japanese and light that makes me wonder if they aren’t part insect. City lights, neon, flashing pachinko lights or fireworks, Japanese love things that glow. Even inside Japanese houses the light is fluorescent white. But especially anything shiny and sparkly catches the Japanese eye.
“We enjoy the whole firework,” explained one of my Japanese friends. “Not just when it bursts into color, but the launching of the firework, the setup, the burst and the dissipating of it.”
Smaller fireworks such as “sprinklers” are available at convenience stores all summer long. The Japanese tourists who come to our island and stay overnight at “minshuku” inns on the beach bring fireworks with them. And just in case they should forget, there is an old lady on the beach who sells fireworks from a beach stall. You just gotta have fireworks.
Since most of the fireworks festivals in this area are along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, we have easy access to several of them just a short boat ride away. And there is no better way to see fireworks than from a boat, away from the crowds. The first “hanabi taikai” of the year is the last Saturday in May at Tomo no Ura in Fukuyama. So we packed two kids and five adults into the boat and soon everyone was chiming “sugei!” in unison as the “fire flowers” burst like blossoms over the sea.
“Ah! Shinsaku!” someone said, trying to decide what the shape this new firework was. As with most Japanese children, almost any new shape looks like some kind of food to them.
“It’s an octopus!” yelled the 8-year-old Nami-chan. To me, it didn’t look like food at all — more like kanji. With tentacles.
Boom, boom, boom went the fireworks, many launched from under water. There were lots of new shapes and colors this year, including beautiful orange and purple bursts and small golden glittery fish that fell straight down and then suddenly shot back up before finally dissipating into the night air.
“Kani da!” yelled 6-year-old Miho-chan, who saw a crab shape in one of the fireworks. It was becoming clear that young kids expect fireworks to be something, not just a pretty little explosion. The fireworks continued for 45 minutes, explosions of octopus, crab, fish and nearly all of the “joyo” kanji.
“Hora! Hora! Niko-niko shiyoru yo!” (“Look! Look! It’s a smiley face!”) said Nami-chan, pointing to her camera.
“Ehhhhhhh?” said the adults to each other in disbelief.
But 8-year-old Nami-chan proved herself right — she had captured the firework perfectly on film.