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Tokyo Fireworks August 17, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo Fireworks” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tE

Summertime in Tokyo is a time when you can go to many different festivals.  The usual summer festivals with various food stalls selling okonomiyaki and yakisoba exist, and there is a lot of dancing that happens at these festivals.  The most popular annual festival has to be the fireworks festivals.  These are held weekly starting in the last weekend of July.  There are several famous fireworks festivals in Tokyo.  These include the Sumida River Fireworks (last weekend in July); the Edogawa Fireworks (first weekend in August); Tokyo Bay Fireworks (second weekend in August); and the Meiji Jingu Fireworks (end of August).  Of course, there are several more in and around Tokyo, but these are the biggest festivals.  If you are in Tokyo at that time, and have a day to spare, it’s a good idea if you can make it to one of these fireworks festivals.  If you can’t, I wouldn’t worry too much as you can see video of this at various places on the internet, especially on YouTube.

Coming from Vancouver, I have a very different idea of what a fireworks festival should be.  I am very biased in how things look after growing up enjoying the Symphony of Fire, now the Celebration of Light, in Vancouver.  The Vancouver festival lasts four nights over the course of two weeks and it is actually a competition among various companies from around the world.  They are scored on five basic criteria:

  • General Concept – presentation, structure and scale of display
  • Colour – choice and variety of colours
  • Originality – design and architecture
  • Quality of Production – rhythm of fireworks, volume of effects and quality of construction
  • Correlation of Music – choice of music, synchronization of effects, adaptation of moods

This festival has been going on since 1995 and I have grown to become extremely critical of the types of fireworks used, how it’s used, and the use of music within a fireworks display.  Needless to say, fireworks festivals are no longer as “enjoyable” as used to be.

In Japan, fireworks festivals are not about a competition.  It’s about impressing people with various fireworks, including the use of a large amount of fireworks to impress the crowds.  I have seen a couple of fireworks displays around Tokyo since I first came here.  The first time I saw the fireworks was in Atami several years ago.  Atami is a beach resort that is famous for its onsen. Recently, I have had the pleasure to go to the Edogawa Fireworks festival.  The atmosphere in Japan is extremely different compared to Vancouver.  The first thing you have to realize is that the festival is very calm and relaxed.  If you go to a festival in the city, such as the Sumida River Fireworks, you should expect to see people all over the place.  Since there is limited park space near the fireworks, it’s customary to see people set up their “camp” on local streets and just wait there for several hours.  My friend John, owner and star of Weblish was kind enough to spend a lot of time reserving a huge area in a park next to the fireworks.  We had what was one of the best seats in the city.  If you do go to a fireworks festival, and you do find a way into a nearby park, expect to see a sea of blue tarps on the ground.  It’s customary for Japanese people to rush into a site when it’s opened up and set up these tarps to reserve their area.  You can usually set up shop up to a day or so in advance, but it depends on which festival you are attending, and the rules for the year.  The second thing to note is that by the mid afternoon, people start to flood into the area.  This is a festival, and like any festival, people like to make it a big event.

When you get a spot to watch the fireworks, the next thing to do is relax.  It’s a great time to be with friends and enjoy the conversations.  To be prepared, bring lots of food and lots of drinks.  The great thing about Japan is that you can drink in public.  It’s necessary to bring enough alcohol to keep yourself happy up to and including the fireworks.  Bring enough snacks so that you won’t be starving after the fireworks.  The only question is where to use the washroom.  Like any public event, expect lines to use the washroom.  I had the unfortunate event of needing the washroom about halfway through the fireworks, and had to wait a bit to use it after the fireworks.  It wasn’t bad, but it’s not something that I’d feel comfortable doing again, if I could help it.

As I mentioned, fireworks in Japan are all about amazing the crowd.  They usually start with a countdown, if you are near a speaker, followed by a large display of fireworks.  They tend to go in a 10 minute loop.  There are a few minutes of spectacular fireworks that light up the sky followed by several minutes of smaller fireworks.  They tend to go one after another rather than several at the same time.  I believe this is done to allow the smoke to dissipate for the next round of large fireworks.  This entire process is repeated for just over an hour. If you are worried about catching a train to escape the area, you should think about leaving 10 minutes, or earlier, from the area.  If you wait till the end, you could be waiting for over an hour to just get to the station platform before you can wait for a train.  Needless to say, the trains are packed as badly as the morning rush.  If you don’t want to wait in line, chill out at your spot for at least 30 minutes, and then try to find a place nearby that you can just hang out and spend money for a couple hours.  If you are lucky, you’ll have a friend who lives nearby and you can just hang out there until the trains aren’t too busy.  The fireworks ended at around 8:30pm, and I left my friend’s house around 11pm.  The train was still packed as if it was the morning rush hour, but at least the station platform wasn’t that busy.

Comparing fireworks in Japan to fireworks in Vancouver is not an easy thing to do.  Vancouver is a beautiful display that is timed to music which makes it more art that spectacular.  In Japan, it’s the opposite. It’s all about impressing the crowds with images such as famous Japanese characters, and also to have the largest size of fireworks possible.  I’m not sure which is best, but both have their merits.  In Vancouver, everything feels different.  In Japan, with alcohol, things just feel like a party.  I can’t truly explain the difference.  You must go and enjoy the show to understand the difference, but it’s something that must be done if you have the chance to experience it.

Fireworks Information:

Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (Official Site): http://www.celebration-of-light.com/
Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration_of_Light

Tokyo Fireworks Schedule (Jalan – Note: May not be accurate past 2010 events):http://www.jalan.net/jalan/doc/theme/hanabi/13.html
Sumida River Fireworks (English): http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index_eg.html
Sumida River Fireworks (Japanese): http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index.html
Edogawa Fireworks (Japanese): http://www.city.edogawa.tokyo.jp/chi…event/hanabi8/
Tokyo Bay Fireworks (Japanese): http://www.city.chuo.lg.jp/ivent/tou…anabisaimeinn/
Jingu Fireworks (Japanese): http://jinguhanabi.nikkansports.com/

Weblish:  http://weblish.co.jp/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Asakusa – Part II) January 19, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Asakusa – Part II)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kg

The main attraction has to be Sensoji.  This is a widely used word for an entire complex that stretches from Kaminarimon all the way to several temples and shrines located at the end of the Nakamise Shopping Arcade.  Just before you enter, next to the gate at the end of the shopping arcade, there is the Denpoin temple.  It doesn’t look very interesting, but from some reports, there is a nice garden located within that temple’s grounds.  It is now closed to the public.  The first thing you will notice is the grand roof of Sensoji.  It towers above the building itself, but it’s someone hidden by two rows of smaller buildings; these buildings, just before Sensoji itself, is where you can buy various charms and fortunes.  This temple is one of the few where you can buy fortunes that also come in English and a few other languages.  The temple also has one of the most beautiful purification fountains in Tokyo with a very intricately designed dragon.  When inside the temple, you’ll be able to purchase more charms, make donations, and pray.  Immediately next to Sensoji is the Asakusa Shrine.  This shrine is very popular as they have the sanja festival.  It’s one of the great festivals of Tokyo and well worth a look if you have a chance.

Among the other things to do in Asakusa is to head to the Sumida River.  This river is one of the most famous in Tokyo.  Near the station, you can enjoy a view of Asahi Brewery’s headquarters.  It’s very distinct building is designed to look like a tall glass of beer, while just below it is the Asahi Super Dry Hall.  Atop the black box hall is a golden flame, which in reality looks like a big lump of poo.  From here, you can head down to a small pedestrian path/park along the Sumida River.  It’s popular for runners, as well as homeless people.   Located within the same general area is the Tokyo Cruise terminal.  From here, you can catch a river boat that takes you along the Sumida River out towards Odaiba.  From what I’ve heard, this is a very beautiful cruise and worth the costs.  Do be aware that the boats run every 30 minutes to an hour.  If cruising isn’t your thing, you can also head over to the department store, Matsuya.  If you are looking for a little fun, there is a small amusement park located behind Sensoji.  This also provides good access to Kappabashi Street.  This street is famous for selling restaurant related goods.  You can get everything you need to open your own restaurant, but the main focus is on knives.  Many people come here to buy top quality Japanese knives.  While you can buy them at various department stores, this is the heart where you can get everything.

Overall, Asakusa is an essential place to visit when coming to Tokyo.  You will see one of the most famous temples in Tokyo, be able to get all of your souvenirs in one place, and experience a rickshaw tour.  There are also several ways out of Asakusa, so you can enjoy a nice cruise on the river, or even get out of the city and head to Nikko for a temple getaway.  Asakusa is also very important as a place for budget travellers.  This is where most of the youth hostels and Japanese style inns are located.  While it’s not the most centrally located area of Tokyo, it can be the cheapest.  While the accommodations can be cheap, do be aware that you may end up spending more money on transportation to go places, especially if you are trying to make use of your JR Pass.  Asakusa is only serviced by the subways and private companies, so the JR Pass is almost useless here.  However, it’s still a very fun place.

This is Part II of a II part series.  For more information on Asakusa, please read Part I.

Asakusa Information:

Asakusa (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Kaminarimon (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaminarimon
Kappabashi (English):  http://www.kappabashi.or.jp/en/index.html
Kappabashi (Japanese):  http://www.kappabashi.or.jp/
Kappabashi (Bento.com):  http://www.bento.com/phgal-kappabashi.html
Tokyo Cruise (Japanese – Note:  There is a little English in the menus): http://www.suijobus.co.jp/index.html
Asakusa Hanashiki Amusement Park (English):  http://www.hanayashiki.net/e/index.html
Asakusa Hanashiki Amusement Park (Japanese):  http://www.hanayashiki.net/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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