If you are visiting Japan in summer, you can’t miss fireworks!
August is when most firework festivals take place in Japan. Countless firework festivals are held all over the country. Many famous tourist spots such as World Heritage Site Miyajima, where everybody wants to go when they visit Japan, Kobe Port, known to have a million-dollar night view, and the Sumida river with a beautiful contrast to Tokyo Skytree all become the stage of firework festivals during this season.
Omagari and Nagaoka, which are two of Japan’s three biggest firework festivals (three most impressive firework festivals), are known to attract over one million visitors from all over Japan every year.
The reason firework festivals are concentrated to the month of August has something to do with longstanding Japanese customs. It is told that our deceased ancestors’ spirits return home during a period called Obon in mid-August. The spirits then go back after Obon is over. Fireworks have been held in accordance to this timing to commemorate our ancestors. That is why to this day, August is the season of fireworks.
Many foreign tourists come to Japan to see firework festivals. It may even be your first time to go to one?
Nonetheless, big crowds are inevitable during firework events and no planning can mean disaster! Read this feature for a pleasant Hanabi experience 🙂
Half your work is done, once you’ve figured out how to get there and return smoothly.
1. Arrive at the nearest station at least three hours in advance
You will not get to see fireworks if you arrive half an hour before the start time! You may not even get onto the train because of the crowds. Some organizers offer shuttle buses, but these may stop operating once the start time approaches, when there are too many people. It is normal that it will take you half an hour to walk from the nearest station to the fireworks location. You should foresee to take double the time, as a lot of people are walking at the same time in the same direction for an extensive distance. The picture below was taken two hours before the start time of Tsuchiura National Fireworks Competition. It is up until three hours before that you can still walk normally.
2. Get your return ticket when you arrive
Once you arrive at the closest station, immediately purchase your return ticket. The crowds at firework events surpass your imagination. If you have a transportation IC card, it won’t be necessary to buy a ticket, but some stations don’t accept IC cards, so make sure to check in advance when you arrive.
If you have an IC card, make sure to charge it upon arrival, not to get stuck later.
3. Don’t stay until the end!
The most exciting part of fireworks is towards the end. It’s a shame to miss this part, but most people who come from far will do it this way. Leave the location 30 minutes before the ending time. Why? Because hundreds of thousands of people will use the same station at firework events; stations restrict their entry so that people won’t fall from the platforms. If you watch the fireworks to the end, you will end up having to line up to get into the restricted station, which could take over two or three hours. The trick is to get to the station when the line isn’t as long yet.
4. Do not cut through the line
No matter what, do not cut through the line. Keeping the line order is an absolute must in Japan. This is the reason that there are no accidents in Japan, even in times of entry restrictions. If you don’t respect this rule, you may even become the cause of a fight or an accident.
5. Don’t even try going by car
Some foreign tourists are comfortable drivers and rent cars, but you will not reach your destination, as main roads are all blocked during firework events.
Watching the Show
The crowds continue even after leaving the station. There are many things to keep in mind from here onward as well.
1. Wear comfortable shoes
You’ve been looking forward to these fireworks. You may want to go dressed in Japanese attire like a yukata (summer, cotton kimono). You should avoid this if the location is far from your accommodation. Walking in geta (traditional Japanese wooden sandals, paired with yukata) can be tedious. Also, there is no place to fix your outfit if gets messed up in the crowds. The best thing to do is to go in comfortable clothes and sneakers. Take a look! Would you really want to walk through these crowds in geta?
2. Get food and drinks in advance
You may be thinking about buying some things from the food stands at the fireworks location. Think twice, because there are going to be thousands of hundreds of visitors. Not only the food stands but even supermarkets and convenience stores near the event will be so crowded that there will be lines all the way outside. If possible get your shopping done before getting to the nearest station so you can move smoothly once you arrive. Firework events are in summer. Make sure you have enough to drink to avoid dehydration.
3. Designate a meeting point in case you lose each other
With so many people at once in one place, it is not uncommon to lose sight of each other. If you are with small children, do not let go of their hand. Although there is a center to take care of lost kids, the announcements to locate the parents are in Japanese. Even adults will get lost in these crowds in such a large space.
Find a place that is easy to spot, decide a time in advance and make it your meeting point, for example: “meet here after [ ] minutes if we get lost!”. Even if you have cell phones, reception might be bad because of so many people using their phones at once.
4. All bathrooms have long lines. Go in advance.
Public toilets will be installed on the day of firework events, but even if there many toilets, there are hundreds of thousands of people using them! Try to go to the bathroom in advance while you still can. It may be a problem if you need to go frequently, but the bathroom lines right before and right after the fireworks are insanely long.
Unexpected Ways to Avoid the Crowds
Are you starting to have second thoughts about going to see fireworks after learning about the crowds? There are actually ways to avoid them.
1. Don’t watch the fireworks from the main location!
You may be wondering what we mean, but after the fireworks when several hundred thousand people are trying to leave, it may easily take an hour just to get out. There are even events where they will restrict leaving times according to the area in which you were sitting. You will miss your last train if you put up with that! Fireworks rise high up into the sky; if the location is not too far from the station or is inside the city, chances are you can see them from neighboring stations. A good example is Tokyo’s Sumida River Fireworks, famous for its extreme crowds.
If you get off a little far out at Yotsugi Station on Keisei Railway Oshiage Line or Shinkoiwa Station on JR Sobu Main Line and watch from the banks of Arakawa River, it is this quiet. It’s a great idea to look up hidden spots like these.
If you see a group of locals getting ready to watch fireworks near the closest station but away from the actual fireworks, you got lucky. That area might be a good spot to watch?! Don’t be shy to ask. They will probably tell you up to which point you can see the fireworks. In some cases, the closed-off roads are even better spots to watch than the main areas. This is the skill of the locals! It depends on the location and traffic conditions of the fireworks event, but as long as it is within a 30-minute walking distance and there are no tall skyscrapers, take a walk around the closest station and look for a good spot to watch.
2. Participate in a tour
If it’s a nationally known fireworks event, there are tour buses leaving from all over the country. Package deals with round trip tickets (bus or train) and accommodation included is quite comforting. However, as these are popular tours, many of them are easily sold out. Also, many of these companies sell the tours mainly to Japanese tourists without any English descriptions, as they are not able to correspond in foreign languages. We’ve picked up some companies that provide fireworks tours, you can call or e-mail them directly and ask if they accommodate foreign tourists.
◎JTB Phone No.: +81-3-6902-5555
◎Shiki no Tabi (四季の旅） Phone No.: +81-3-5203-1502
◎Hankyu Kotsu-sha (阪急交通社) Phone No.: +81-3-6745-1300
◎VIEW（びゅう） Phone No.: +81-3-3843-2001
◎HIS Phone No.: +81-3-6861-6221（HIS Shibuya）
◎Hatobus (はとバス) Phone No.: +81-3-3435-6081
There are many other travel agencies out there. You should do some research and explore!
Important to Keep in Mind!
Firework events, flights and train schedules change every year. Make sure to check the current year’s schedule on the websites before planning! Depending on the event, it may get canceled or delayed due to rain or rough weather.
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