One hot and sticky night a few weeks ago, I was calmly making supper when a loud bang caught my attention. Forgetting for a moment that I was not back in South Africa (where gunshots can occasionally be heard), I didn’t think anything of it until a second, even louder bang rang throughout the air as light flashed into the lounge window. Over one of the houses, to my delight, I saw another huge firework exploding in the summer night sky, a loud bang following close on its heels. I suddenly realized that one of the infamous Japanese summer firework festivals was taking place right by my house!
Fireworks (花火 hanabi) have played an integral part in Japanese culture and history. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that firework festivals are still held year-round in Japan – most of them taking place during the hot, humid months of July and August. These events attract hundreds and thousands of spectators, all vying for a spot closest to the riverbank where the fireworks take off.
After watching the fireworks from my window for a few moments, I left my air conditioned house and made my way onto the humid streets outside. I now suddenly realized why my home station was so unusually crowded after work that day… there were people everywhere. But the atmosphere was light and there was a definite festive feeling.
After making my way through the crowd, I came to a stretch of road with lanterns hanging above long lines of stalls selling streetfood. Delicious smells filled the air as people swarmed to make sure that they could have a taste of the food being prepared right in front of their eyes.
Fireworks (or hanabi) is literally translated as flower 花 and fire 火 (written in kanji). That means that in Japanese, fireworks are literally seen as fire flowers – a very apt description indeed.
After having gotten some yakitori, I made my way down to the riverside where I luckily managed to find a place to sprawl out and watch the rest of the fireworks under the night sky.