Throughout the summer months, Japan’s fireworks are on full display during Hanabi Taikai – fireworks festivals. The brilliant and mesmerizing display of fireworks is a long tradition that captures the heart of all the viewers.
Every summer in Japan between July – Sept, there are hundreds of fireworks festivals lighting up the night sky all over the country. Japan’s fireworks festivals range in size and the massive ones are simply unreal. They are an explosive light show illuminating the night sky and delighting the crowd. During our visits to Japan, we had a chance to watch two very different fireworks displays. We’ll share our experiences and tips on attending Japan’s fireworks festival you can plan your own trip.
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History of Japan’s Fireworks Festivals
Fireworks is hanabi (花火) in Japanese and translates to “flower fire”. Japan’s fireworks festivals are called Hanabi Taikai (花火大会).
So how did this all get started? The history of fireworks in Japan existed prior to 1600s but the first official fireworks festival started in 1733. Japan suffered famine and a large number of deaths in 1732 and General Tokugawa Yoshimune (8th shogun) wanted to honor and mourn the dead from the previous year. This was the start of the Sumidagawa River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo.
There are websites dedicated to providing detailed information about each firework festival (we’ll share links below) but most of them are in Japanese only. The websites share the crowd size and most importantly, how many fireworks will be set off during the festival. The smaller ones set off just a few hundred but the popular fireworks festivals blasts over 20,000 fireworks.
How Much Does it cost to Watch Fireworks in Japan
Almost all the fireworks are free and available for public viewing. However, you usually have to arrive very early to secure a good viewing spot. Depending on the popularity of the fireworks show it’s best to show up at least a few hours in advance and reserve your spot.
The fireworks festivals are located throughout the country. There will be transportation and hotel costs associated with visiting the festival if there is a particular one you want to visit. Remember to plan ahead as nearby hotels are usually booked out months in advance.
Wear Yukata for Fireworks
When you go to a summer fireworks festival in Japan, many people will wear yukata (浴衣). Yukata is a casual summer kimono made of cotton or synthetic fabric. It’s similar to the bathing wear many ryokans offers its guests during the stay. The ones for the fireworks festival are usually brighter in color and patterns.
Yukata are much easier to wear compared to traditional kimonos and available for both male and female. You can rent yukata in cities or buy one in retail shops. Yukata start at $40 on the low end at thrift shops to several hundred (USD) at high-end kimono stores. It is typical for ladies to have a drawstring pouch or bag (kinchaku 巾着) when wearing yukata.
Tips on Getting Ready For Japanese Fireworks
Here are a few tips on getting ready for the fireworks festival:
- Arrive early to get a decent viewing spot.
- You’re most likely going to be sitting on cement/pavement/ground. Bring something that you can sit on as the ground has been baking in the blazing summer sun all day and it will be hot.
- Go to the bathroom early and avoid the crowds. At one of the festivals we attended, the wait for the bathroom at the Lawson’s was over 15 min long.
- There are thousands if not tens of thousands of people. Determine a place to meet with family or friends if you get separated.
- Bring your own food and drinks so you can watch the fireworks and enjoy snacks at the same time.
Food choices at a Fireworks Festival
Many of the large fire festivals will have food vendors selling classic Japanese street food, including karaage, beer, yakisoba, shaved ice, grilled meats, and many more. It’s a great place to try out many of the classic Japanese street foods.
Fireworks in Lake Kawaguchi and Yokohama
We’ve attended two fireworks in Japan, one near Mt. Fuji and the other one close to Nami’s home in Yokohama. We’ll share our experiences below as they were quite different.
Lake Kawaguchi Fireworks Festival
The Lake Kawaguchi Fireworks is one of the major fireworks festivals around Mt. Fuji. It is part of the Five Lake Festival Fireworks and over 10,000 fireworks are set off from the middle of the lake during the celebration.
We arranged with the hotel to have dinner early at 5 pm so we could ride the free shuttle they provided from the hotel to the station near the fireworks festival. It was about a 10 min walk from the station to Lake Kawaguchi.
We arrived about 30 min before the show and were able to find some empty spots. However, it quickly filled up after we settled down. The rain was drizzling on and off but luckily the weather cooperated with us. If the weather is not suitable the festival is usually delayed a day or two instead of canceled in Japan.
Japan’s Fireworks Format
After waiting anxiously, the fireworks started to loud cheers from the crowd. Unexpectedly, the firework ended after about 5 minutes. Just as we were wondering what’s going on, we realized the format at Lake Kawaguchi is first, the announcement of the fireworks, then sponsors, finally fireworks display. The other type of fireworks is a continuous non-stop fireworks from the beginning to the end.
From then on, the fireworks would be set off for 3 – 5 minutes and then a sponsor’s name would be announced, then fireworks would commence. Personally, I find this format very anticlimactic and very hard to get excited as it constantly starts and stops. Nevertheless, we got to experience some dazzling display of fireworks.
Besides the traditional fireworks patterns, the fireworks these days features different shapes, including puppy, heart, smiley face, and other characters.
Since we need to take the shuttle from the station to the hotel and wanted to avoid the stampede of crowds leaving, we stayed for about 45 minutes of fireworks but didn’t stay until the finale.
Yokohama Sparkling Twilight
Viewing the fireworks is always free, however getting the best seats means you have to get there super early or pay a premium. The second firework we’ll share is the Yokohama Sparkling Twilight which we did pay for premium seats.
Many of Japan’s fireworks are set off from a river or a body of water and the best viewing position is sometimes from a boat. The famous Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival costs upwards of $300 – $400 a person to reserve a seat on boats. The Yokohama Sparkling Twilight is a much smaller display of fireworks so it was about $100 a person. For the price, you get a bento box and a can of beer or soda along with the boat ride in the bay.
By the time we booked our seats all the large ships were full and we ended up with a smaller boat.
Watching Japan’s Fireworks Festival from a Boat
We checked in with the boat company at the dock around 6 pm and the boat left the pier at 6:30 om. The boat spent about 30 min touring the bay before settling on its final position.
When we were walking around the harbor area earlier in the afternoon, there were plenty of seating around the bay to get a good view. It had filled up quickly by 6:30 pm.
As we were cruising in the bay, there were many other boats on the water as well to view the fireworks festival.
Before the fireworks were set off, there was a parade of Twilight Jewelry Boats. These boats were decorated with lights and paraded around the bay.
At 7:30 pm, the fireworks set off promptly and it was 3o min of non-stop fireworks display and excitement. Our small boat turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The boat’s staff had placed sitting mats on the bow of the boast and the captain allowed all the passengers to head outside to sit on the bow so we have unobstructed views of the fireworks.
It was an amazing experience to observe the beautiful explosions lighting up the night sky with Yokohama downtown as the backdrop.
Our family had a great time and will cherish the memory for a long time. If we watch it again we’ll just go early to the bayfront and reserve a good spot instead of paying for a seat on the boat.
Popular Fireworks Festivals in Japan
- Omagari Fireworks Festival 全国花火競技大会
- Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Festiva 土浦全国花火競技大会
- Nagaoka Festival Grand Fireworks Show 長岡まつり大花火大会
- Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival 隅田川花火大会
- Edogawa Fireworks Festival 江戸川区花火大会
- Tenjin Matsuri Fireworks Festival 天神祭奉納花火
- Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival 葛飾納涼花火大会
- Minato Kobe Fireworks Festival みなとこうべ海上花火大会
- Miyajima Water Fireworks Display 宮島水中花火大会
Resources for Fireworks Festivals in Japan
Here are some helpful links but most of them are in Japanese only. Please use Google Translate to translate it to your language of preference.
- JNTO – Japan government info on fireworks festivals
- Hanabi Walker – fireworks festival site in Japanese
- Yokohama Fireworks – Information on Yokohama fireworks festival
- JTB – travel agency
Thank you for reading our post on Japan’s fireworks festival. If you are interested in other posts on Japanese culture, you can check them out here.