People enjoy the fireworks from boats on the Sumida River. (Jiji)

Crowds Flock to Festivals and Fireworks
August 16, 2002

Summer fun is now in full flow. All across Japan summer festivals and fireworks displays are drawing crowds of locals and tourists alike. This year, a popular option for holidaymakers is to travel to a region to experience traditional industries and other local culture. Here we introduce just a few of the events that are bringing smiles to people's faces this summer.

The Hottest Tickets in Town
Three of Japan's most famous summer festivals are the Nebuta Festival in Aomori Prefecture, the Gion Festival in the city of Kyoto, and the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival in the city of Fukuoka. The Nebuta Festival is held every year from August 2 to 7 and features a spectacular parade of giant lanterns through the streets of Aomori. The lanterns are designed around such themes as kabuki and historical stories or legends. The Kyoto Gion Festival, held throughout July, has a history of 1,100 years. It reaches its peak in mid-July, when 32 ornately decorated floats parade through central Kyoto, each carrying some form of musical accompaniment. Meanwhile, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival is very much a male affair. Held from July 1 to 15, it reaches its climax on the final day. Teams of men dressed in happi coats run five kilometers through Hakata carrying yamakasa floats while shouting, and spectators shower them with ikioi-mizu (sacred water) from the side of the road.

traditional crafts
Enjoying traditional crafts in Kyoto. (Kyoto Traditional Industries and Crafts Association)

Hanabi (fireworks) displays are a favorite summer pastime in Japan. Japanese fireworks, made using traditional technology, are said to be the most elaborate and spectacular in the world. What makes them special is the way they explode into multicolored balls of flowers; the petals of these flowers each change color, sometimes two or three times. These fireworks are named after flowers like chrysanthemum, peony, and willow. Displays are held across the country from late July to late August, and crowds gather wearing yukata (light summer kimono), jinbei (light summer jackets), or other summer attire and holding uchiwa fans in one hand to keep cool. The Sumida River Fireworks Festival in the downtown Tokyo district of Asakusa is famous for its sheer size. Some 20,000 fireworks are let off in just an hour and 20 minutes, thrilling the crowd of over 900,000. When the larger fireworks explode into balls of color, cries of "Tamaya!" and "Kagiya!" rise up from the riverbank and the houseboats floating on the river. These shouts both derive from the names of fireworks makers in the Edo period (1600-1868).

Local Industry and Tourism Team Up
One of the more popular options this summer is taking part in tours that allow visitors to watch and try their hands at traditional industries or local crafts. For example, Wajima in Ishikawa Prefecture is famous for Wajima-nuri lacquerwork. Making Wajima-nuri involves several stages of minutely detailed work, and until now there have been few places where the public could witness this craft. So Wajima City and the Wajima Chamber of Commerce and Industry got together to create a tour in which visitors can look round the workshop with a volunteer guide. The tours began in April and have proved highly popular. In the historic city of Kyoto, meanwhile, visitors can view workshops where artisans engage in traditional crafts like Nishijin-ori silk weaving. There is also a tour that lets people try their hand at making yatsuhashi, cinnamon-seasoned cracknel.

These summer events have proved popular with foreign tourists, and many regions have been recruiting volunteer interpreters to help out. The government has been promoting tourism as part of its New Welcome Plan 21, which aims to increase the number of foreign visitors to Japan to 8 million by 2007. The policies it is advancing include reducing the cost and increasing the convenience of tourism in Japan and forming "international tourism theme areas" that use local character to attract visitors to the region concerned.

Copyright (c) 2002 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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