Catching the Splendor of Nagaoka's Summer Fireworks
Summer in Japan is an amazingly festive season full of festivals, shopping discounts, and holidays. But perhaps one of the most iconic things in a Japanese summer is the fireworks display. Fireworks are common sights during a summer festival, but not all displays are made the same. Among the various fireworks shows in the country, one of the best in the nation can be found in a quiet city two hours away from Tokyo by Shinkansen. The Nagaoka Fireworks in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture, involves an entire stretch of river spanning two kilometers and some of the nation's biggest fireworks shells.
Started in 1946 to lift the spirits of citizens after the Second World War, the Nagaoka Festival held from August 1 to 3 every year is done to honor the memory of one terrible evening in history when the city was bombarded for one hour and forty minutes. So, throughout the city's three festival days, everyone is enveloped in an atmosphere characterized by a solemn remembrance for those affected by wars and natural calamities, a city's united prayer for peace, and hope for the future.
The grand fireworks show that is held during the latter two days of the festival epitomizes everything about Nagaoka's summer celebration as the pyrotechnics are set against music following a variety of themes. The grandest one of them all is the "Phoenix Fireworks Wishing for Recovery," a prayer for a bright future following the 2004 Niigata Earthquake. This particular sequence set against music also features the city's signature Phoenix shells, which have become a symbol of recovery for the region.
Planning a Trip to See the Fireworks
As one of the nation's most spectacular displays, lodging in Nagaoka can be tough to book during festival season. Also, as the festival is held in the countryside, far from the larger cities in the Kanto area, it's not easy to get back after the fireworks show has ended. When you plan a trip to see the fireworks, it's recommended that you plan to stay overnight in Nagaoka itself rather than attempt a day trip.
Also, if you're coming to the city to see the fireworks in their full splendor, it's highly recommended that you invest in a space in one of the paid areas than try to compete for a spot in the free zones. While the fireworks may be just as breathtaking from a distance, being close to the riverbank and able to see the entire panorama of lights going off will definitely make the trip a sight to remember for years to come. Being at the riverbank will also allow you to enjoy the show with music.
When you go out to catch the fireworks, make sure to bring a leisure mat (available at 100 yen shops) and your choice of drinks and snacks. The fireworks show will run for about two hours and looking away from the sky for a snack run might mean you'll miss out on a grand moment, so it's best to come armed with everything you need. Also, make sure to get to the place you want to sit early. By about thirty minutes before the show begins, the streets would already be full of people settled down to watch the sky and finding a nice spot (whether you've paid for it or not) can be pretty tricky.
While Nagaoka can be a bit out of the way for some travelers coming to Japan on holiday, it can be a side trip truly worth doing for an authentic matsuri experience complete with the most stunning fireworks in the entire nation.
Website (in English) : http://enjoyniigata.com/english/03/nagaoka-festival.html