Summer is festival season in Tokyo, and it wouldn't be complete without extraordinary firework shows. The Japanese word for firework is hanabi, which means fire-flower, and there will certainly be plenty of blooming in the sky this July and August.
The biggest and most anticipated event is the Sumida Firework Festival (Saturday, July 25), in which 21,500 rockets will brighten the skies. The festival is the oldest firework show in Japan, dating back to 1733. The previous year a famine killed many people, and the shogunate headed a ceremony to pray for the souls of the deceased and for an end to the bad years. The restaurants along the sumida river set off fireworks, and the tradition continues to this day. About a million people are expected, so be sure to arrive early to secure a spot!
If you would rather not fight the crowds, on the same day (July 25, 2009), you can attend the Tachikawa festival, which will fire a respectable 5,000 fireworks.
Another big festival is the Adachi Fireworks Festival (July 23, 2009), which will fire 12,000 fireworks and features an amazing ending. The festival got started as a way to celebrate the opening of the Senju Shinbashi bridge.
The Edogawa Ward doesn't stay behind, and will launch 14,000 fire-flowers on August 1. The show is designed to support Tokyo's bid for the 2016 Olympics and will feature a Mt. Fuji in the five Olympic colors.
Another big event this summer will be the 51st Itabashi Fireworks Festival (August 1st, 2009), which is celebrating 20 years of friendship with its sister city in Canada, Burlington. There will be maple leafs and a big 20 in the sky. The Itabashi festival features seating areas, for which you can buy tickets and be sure that you enjoy the fireworks from a prime location.
Koto Ward also makes a presence, and is launching 4,000 fireworks on August 4 by the Arakawa river.
For an easily accessible festival, head to the Jingu-Gaien Fireworks Festival on August 6. There will be 12,000 fireworks to delight all present. Because of its central location, you might be able to catch the fireworks from nearby areas, but the park’s trees tend to block them, so head for the park for the best views.
The Tokyo-Bay Fireworks Festival is an anticipated event, and this year it will take place on August 8. The organizers have prepared several viewing areas around the bay, and you might be able to find a few more secret spots to enjoy the show.
To get into the festival spirit, consider wearing a yukata, which is an informal and light kimono, often worn at fireworks shows, festivals and other summer events. They are much cheaper than a kimono, with a whole set (including the yukata itself, an obi sash, and sometimes extras like geta sandals, kinchaku purses and sensu or uchiwa fans) costing from 5,000 yen to over 20,000 yen. Yukata can be worn by both sexes, with women’s and men’s yukata differing in color, pattern and obi style, and for those who haven’t taken kimono lessons, obi can be bought already tied. Many men opt for a jimbei, a pajama-like short robe-and-shorts that is cheaper and requires no skill to put on. Men’s jimbei come in dark colours and simple patterns, but for the increasing numbers of young women who favor jinbei there are more feminine styles.
To buy a top of the line yukata or a jinbei, check out department stores like Marui, Isetan, Seibu, and Printemps Ginza. Mid-range department stores and clothing shops like Uniqlo are cheaper options.
With events this big, be prepared to arrive several hours early to secure a good viewing spot. The crowds can be huge, so it's a good idea to bring drinks and food from home, unless you don’t mind hour-long waits at food stalls that offer festival fare. Bathrooms have even longer lines, if they are provided at all, so go easy on the drinks. And have a plan for your trip home, as nearby stations get clogged after festivals. Have your return ticket ready or consider walking to a farther station.