Fireworks festivals in Tokyo are definitely an experience no one should miss, but they can be frustrating. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Tokyoites congregate at the hottest spots to watch the fireworks and celebrate summer— and they string along their friends, families, cousins, colleagues, and their neighbors’ dogs.
It’s a time of not only celebration, but also competition as people rush to grab the best viewing spot and whip up stacks and stacks of obentos. Octopi sausages and soccer ball onigiris crowd picnic blankets. Fans flutter back and forth. Empty beer bottles roll on the damp grass. And this is seven hours before the actual festival.
Do I exaggerate? Okay, maybe a bit. But in all honesty, unless you book a spot or ticket, your best bet is to arrive early (and by early, I don’t mean the by-the-book 15 minutes, but a couple hours at least) and explore the territory a bit before you decide on a comfortable location. It’s not as daunting as it sounds—despite popular belief, not everyone has to learn how to run around in a yukata or make rainbow-colored obentos to have a good time at a fireworks festival. If you want to know what to wear, where to eat, where to watch, or simply what to look out for, keep reading, and hopefully, your next hanabi taikai will be an enjoyable experience.
- Pic by Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons.
Can you imagine a whole museum dedicated to fireworks? Sumidagawa’s Ryogoku Fireworks Museum commemorates the long history behind Sumidagawa’s annual hanabi taikai. Certainly, the Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai is a festival worth experiencing, as evidenced by the hordes of honking, immobile cars that clog the roads. Unless you travel to Sumidagawa by car a week early and set up a tent, trains are a safe bet. If you’re willing to spend a fair bit of time holding your breath with your cheek pressed against a salaryman’s back, then travel by the Ginza or Toei Asakusa Line to Asakusa Station—the venue is ten minutes away. You can also view the fireworks from Honjo-Azumabashi, Ryogoku, or Asakusabashi Stations. Can’t locate a good nesting spot on the map? Just follow the crowds of yukatas.
The Edogawa Hanabi Taikai boasts fireworks shaped like Mount Fuji and synchronized to music. It’s also known to be so congested that festivalgoers cannot get past the train station. In addition, although you can come across a cheap-looking noodle shop every few metres, the area is a bit expensive. The food in the cheapest, well-known restaurants costs at least 8oo yen. So make sure you grab some dinner at Origin Bento or a supermarket beforehand, and convince your party to follow a buddy system (hold hands and don’t let go!) so no one ends up on the other side of the Edo River. If you’re attending with a particularly large party, then have everyone tie balloons marked with a special sign to their purses or around their waists, so it’s easier to locate your friends in a dense, constantly moving crowd.
If you’re hoping to cross the Rainbow Bridge in order reach Harumi Pier, think again: the Rainbow Bridge shuts down an hour before the fireworks begin. The official spots are in Harumi Park, a 15-minute walk away from Toyosu Station. While most areas in Harumi Park require prior booking and payment, a few are open to the public. They fill up faster than the rides at Tokyo Disneyland, though, so prowl around for territory in the afternoon. A cheaper and less hectic option would be to view the fireworks from Odaiba, where you can see fireworks exploding above the Rainbow Bridge.
The official viewing areas are in sports stadium. However, if you’re still clutching onto your crumpled 10,000yen note, the roads provide shelter and beer for cheapos. Meiji Jingu Stadium also hosts a J-pop concert prior to the fireworks, but hey, you can get the feel of the beat from the outside as well.
There are certain times in the year that can make your visit to Tokyo less than idea.