She told me Japanese fireworks festivals could last two hours, and that sounded pretty fine to me. I never counted, but shows in the states lasted around thirty minutes. I remember once I missed an entire grand finale looking around for a good place to sit. Every summer, maybe it was summer, there was a festival in the local park that I increasingly lost interest in as I got older. I think the time I missed the finale was the last I went.
Anyway, now that I think about it, two hours was stretching it. It was an hour, maybe an hour and a half tops. What gives them their length is that Japanese fireworks festivals set off their fireworks in short intervals with ten minute breaks in between. Break time is given over to an advertisement from our sponsors, a marriage proposal, or just a song while the pyrotechnics prepare the next batch. They might be so long because like many Japanese festivals, it’s all a grand excuse to drink.
And eat. I’m sure the Japanese look at festival food the same way you do about your own local carnival pickings–one deep-fried Snickers bar is enough, thank you–but for the non-Japanese it’s all a real treat. If you’re visiting, it’s a chance to try a lot of traditional food in one place. Yakitori is a good start, and yakisoba is a lot like a “Mongolian” BBQ restaurant I tried back home. For the bold there’s grilled squid, which will have a longer line than any other stand there. If you still have room, dessert is taiyaki, a fish-shaped anko-filled pastry.
Firework festivals in Japan happen every summer. You know one’s on when people wearing yukata crowd the train station. A yukata, in case you’re not familiar, is a thin summer kimono. Kimonos are too heavy and expensive to be worn except for occasions like weddings, so yukata are worn for special events outdoors. Wearing one is a lot like wearing a robe except you’re always worried it’s going to fall off. Not that it will–they’re very secure–but I always found myself checking to make sure I wasn’t gracing everyone with a show of my boxers. I did, once when I sat down, but no one seemed to notice except me.
Many of my students asked me which style of fireworks I like better, Japanese or America.
“Well,” I said, “it’s purely a matter of taste.”
U.S. fireworks shows are meant to be jaw-dropping, but while there certainly is an element of excitement to Japanese shows, to me it was all more relaxing than grand. You just can’t get too excited when the bangs only last five minutes. If I had to chose, I’d say Japanese ones are more my pace, but maybe I’m just getting old.
The fireworks themselves are the same quality you’d see abroad. Some were more impressive than what I’d seen back home, but I haven’t seen American fireworks in 10 years and am guessing they’ve kept pace with the Japanese ones. The only thing special I’ve noticed was every show I’ve been to ends in a “waterfall,” which is a long curtain of fireworks spraying up from the ground. Trust me, it’s not as impressive as it sounds. It’s not that high, so you can only really see it if you have a good seat. Though if you’re lucky enough to watch a show over water, the explosions just over the surface can be breathtaking. But like the waterfall, just come early so you can get a good seat. That’s the most important advice I can give you about Japanese fireworks festivals. Cheers.