Well, scratch another one off the bucket list.
It’s been a lifetime of firsts in the months since I’ve been in Tokyo. A couple days ago I heard my first Japanese cicada (sadly, he sounded nothing like the one in Namiuchigiwa Muromi-san) and tonight, saw my first Japanese fireworks display. That’s a much bigger deal of course, and while I still dream of seeing fireworks during a village matsuri somewhere in small-town Japan and I didn’t have the nerve to wear my yukata, seeing a big hanabi taikai in Tokyo is a major milestone.
The Adachi Fireworks Festival is definitely Tokyo’s “B Set” for hanabi taikai – it draws “only” 570,000 people on average, while the big daddy – next week’s Sumidagawa Festival – draws twice that. But Adachi is still a huge event, with over 12,000 fireworks set off, and because of its location on the banks of the Arakawa on the outer fringes of Central Tokyo allows a wide viewing area and the opportunity to watch from the North side of the river and avoid the worst of the crowds.
I did see Japanese fireworks once before in fact, but it was in Canada – Japan was entered into an international fireworks competition there, one of my favorite events in visits to one of my favorite cities, Vancouver. Japan is crazy for fireworks and has been for a very long time, and there’s a festival shooting them off somewhere in greater Tokyo every summer weekend. Fireworks were a major theme of one of my favorite anime, Oh! Edo Rocket – which while a fantastical show, did accurately show that even during the Edo Period pyrotechnic displays were already big here.
The night was cool – blissfully, delightfully, wonderfully, orgiastically cool. What a glorious break from the recent heat and humidity – things have cooled down generally but I think being on the banks of the Arakawa helped too. Miraculously I didn’t suffer a single mosquito bite despite forgetting to buy mushiyoke. You have to love the way the Japanese start these things, with a countdown – “Go, Yon, San, Ni, Ichi, TAMAYA!” Yes, they really do yell that here sometimes. The show lasted just over an hour, with the Sky Tree and the railroad bridge providing a lovely backdrop. It was a pretty spectacular display, featuring smiley-faces, cat faces and hearts (all too elusive to capture on film), among other things. The music selection was pretty close to an American fireworks hit list – “Flight of the Bumblebee”, Scott Joplin, the William Tell Overture, Pomp & Circumstance… Everything but Sousa marches and Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful”.