The fireworks you can watch between buildings without ruining your appetite

Fireworks is a national obsession in Japan during the summer – every weekend throughout late July and August, hundreds of thousands of kimono’d people gather to watch explosions in the Tokyo night sky.

Not all fireworks exhibitions are organised equally, however.  One that is less equal than others is the Sumida River fireworks show.  Tokyo, you see, has a lot of tall buildings.  Ideally, you’d put on a big fireworks display somewhere away from all the buildings, in a nice spacious area where everyone can see.  According to the Sumida River fireworks organisers, being able to actually see the fireworks at a fireworks show is highly overrated.  Welcome to your prime viewing position:

Yes, those are fireworks, way over there in the distance.

The preparation of the event was possibly done during an organising committee kegger.  There were streets cordoned off as for the audience (standing room only), which could only be entered twenty minutes before the actual event.  Unfortunately, these didn’t run parallel to the river, but leading into it, flanked by buildings on both sides – which means that the viewing angle, if there was one, was quite narrow.  If you couldn’t get in, too bad – you’d have to rough it, scouring the streets for a likely viewing spot.  Unfortunately, since you didn’t know exactly where the fireworks would be launching ahead of time, this proved to be a guessing game.

A guessing game me and the thousand people around me lost.  As the first sound of an bursting firework vibrated through the packed street, we suddenly, collectively realised we couldn’t see a thing.  Picking up our beers and groundsheets en masse, we scurried to nearby streets looking for a better vantage point, fireworks refugees looking for a new place to set up camp.

As it turned out, a lot of people seemed to be quite satisfied with only seeing the rightmost quarter of a fireworks exhibition.  They squatted in the streets and perched on car bumpers, beers in one hand and overpriced pizza from a guy doing the rounds in another, peering in between the buildings.  In spite of my complaining that I was only enjoying a quarter of the display, the angle turned out to be interesting after all.  Being a veteran  of some eight or so Tokyo fireworks shows now, it’s getting very hard to take a new photo of a firework.  At least the Sumida River show provided a new spin on an old theme:

In this photo, you can just see some smug people watching the show unimpeded from the top of their building.  I’m not sure if my half hour of glaring at the back of their heads reduced their enjoyment at all, but we can only hope.

Luckily, the next weekend’s show would see the fireworks in a full widescreen, panoramic view.  More pictures to come – but somewhat slowly.  In a country where even taking a full week off is seen as treason, I’ve taken some extended holidays to remember what the sun looks like and straighten my spine out from a chair-shaped position.  Updates will be a bit sporadic, but I promise all-you-can-see fireworks.


2 thoughts on “The fireworks you can watch between buildings without ruining your appetite

  1. We watched the fireworks at the Brisbane Ekka on Saturday night. Proving my theory that fireworks are getting cheaper and cheaper, the show continues to increase in both size and running time. Laser effects have also crept in; I don’t know if this year was the first time they’ve been used, but they add somewhat to the experience.

    • It’s funny that super-futuristic Japan doesn’t see the need to add lasers into fireworks shows. Perhaps they’re trying to preserve the almost 300 year tradition of fireworks here. On the other hand, I did notice some Queen blaring at the show I went to last weekend – I’m not sure how long it will be until we get an F-111 flyover too.

      I have no idea what fireworks cost, but since exhibitions here explode a massive amount of ordinance and are usually about an hour long, it can’t be too cheap.

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