Fireworks are a thrilling sight in the skies of summer. (Tokyo Metropolitan Government)
From late July to late August, fireworks displays are held in various parts of the country. This is a tradition that goes back several centuries in Japan. Watching the burst of colors against the nighttime sky can make Japan's hot, humid summers seem more tolerable.
Fireworks are something kids look forward to as a highlight of their summer vacation. Fireworks are hand-made by artisans, who devote most of the year to preparing for the summertime pageantry.
Fireworks first reached Japan's shores in the late sixteenth century, when they were brought over by Portuguese sailors. During the Edo period (1603-1867), craftsmen specializing in making fireworks appeared, and fireworks displays become a common summertime treat.
There are about 4,000 to 5,000 fireworks displays around the country during the summer months. Around 250 are large-scale events, of which 50 are held in and around Tokyo.
(Tokyo Metropolitan Government)
The most famous in Tokyo is the display over the Sumida River. It's also one of the oldest, having begun way back in 1733. It was called off in 1961 because of the huge traffic jams it caused and also because many new homes around the river made it too dangerous. It was revived, though, in 1978.
Some fireworks are specially designed so that when they burst they take the shape of flowers, animals, and waterfalls. A display in the city of Tondabayashi, Osaka Prefecture, is famous for the "Niagara," which rises to a height of 30 meters (32.8 yards) and stretches across the sky for 500 meters (547 yards)! It's the biggest "special-effects" firework in the world. The display itself is on a gargantuan scale, featuring some 20,000 rounds of ordinary fireworks.
Watching big displays is a lot of fun, but another way of enjoying fireworks is to ignite them yourself. A variety of fireworks are sold in stores. These generally aren't the types that explode in the sky but are sparklers around 50 centimeters (20 inches) long; they burn brightly and in different shapes when lit. They can be enjoyed with family and friends in one's backyard or on camping trips.