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Japan’s 3 Great Fireworks Festivals: A Spectacular Summer Tradition (Omagari, Tsuchiura, and Nagaoka)

Japanese summer is synonymous with stunning fireworks displays, known as ‘hanabi’ festivals. These spectacular events are held all across the country, lighting up the night sky with vibrant colors and filling the air with the sound of thunderous explosions.

But what are some of the most famous ones? Japan’s Three Great Fireworks Festivals include the Omagari Fireworks Festival in Akita, the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Festival in Ibaraki, and the Nagaoka Festival Grand Fireworks in Niigata. They are a celebration of creativity, culture, and history, offering an unforgettable experience of fireworks on an unprecedented scale.

To give you a taste of the magic of hanabi, we spoke with the Japan Pyrotechnics Association to bring you four famous fireworks festivals and share insights on their cultural significance, history, and the best spots to catch them in action.

Main image: PIXTA

Culture and History of Japanese Fireworks

The Japanese word for fireworks is hanabi/花火, meaning “flower fire.” These characters not only suggest the literal floral shape of fireworks but speak to their transient nature as well.

Hanabi “bloom” momentarily, a moment in time reminiscent of hanami – the celebration of cherry blossoms.

There are two types of fireworks in Japan: “enka,” which are the large-scale ones used for displays and festivals, and “gangu fireworks,” which are the smaller ones you can use at home.

Gunpowder, the raw material for fireworks, entered Japan in the 1500s from the West; however, it wasn’t until the Edo Period (1603-1868) that the culture of fireworks displays truly began.

After the war, gunpowder for weapons was repurposed for a different use: fireworks. Samurai used them for displays at the daimyo’s villa in Okawabata (downstream from the Sumida River) in Edo, or present-day Tokyo.

That popularity eventually spread throughout Edo, establishing itself as a form of play for the common folk. Soon, fireworks masters and sellers also began to appear, and the fireworks culture gradually took root in Japan.

Types of Japanese Hanabi

Fireworks ball (Image courtesy of PIXTA)

There are many types of fireworks, but the basic mechanism is simple. Using gunpowder, a round “fireworks ball” is launched into the sky, where it explodes into the beautiful shapes and colors that we all know as fireworks.

(Image courtesy of PIXTA)

The fireworks ball consists of the shell, made from cardboard, and a mass of gunpowder called a “star.” This is the source of the colors and lights. In the center is anothe…

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