花火 hanabi—fireworks

Yesterday we went to see the Tenjin matsuri summer festival in the centre of Osaka. So did a million other people.

This tradition goes back over a thousand years and is very spectacular, taking place both on land (a procession through the streets) and on the water (a boat parade on the Yodogawa river). There is also a firework display, with the fireworks being launched from boats on the river.

 

These murals on Tenjin-bashi bridge show images of the festival from the Edo period.

Here is one of the boats in the modern-day festival. (Sorry about the poor focus.)

Tenjin-bashi bridge itself was lined with people cheering the boats passing underneath. In hindsight, we should probably have stayed  there.

As the procession moved off, we tried to follow and get a glimpse of it. But there were too many people, and the police were directing us away from the route. We tried to get ahead of it, but it went in a different direction and we lost it.

There were huge crowds at the festival, and many of them had dressed up for the occasion in traditional costume of colourful yukata robes and geta wooden clogs. Young people especially had taken the trouble to dress up.

The festival is enormously popular. The streets and bridges were closed to traffic and filled with people.

We wanted to go to see the fireworks, and we found ourselves moving with the flow of tens of thousands of people towards the river. The street was lined with police, directing us (or so we thought) to where we could see the fireworks. In fact, their only concern was crowd control, keeping people moving through the streets, and preventing a dangerous crush, rather than facilitating the people to enjoy the festival.

 

We reached the river at Sakuranomiya bridge, from which it was possible to see the fireworks. However, the police were insistent on keeping the crowd moving. “Do not stop on the bridge. It is very congested. Keep moving. Keep moving. Do not stop on the bridge.”

So, having been herded through through the hot city streets for a mile to a spot where it was possible to see the fireworks, we were only able to see them during the 5 minutes it took the crowd to shuffle across the bridge. They looked pretty good.

 

After crossing the bridge, we decided to get some food at the festival stalls. But after 5 minutes of trying to make our way through the crowd and making very little progress, we gave up.

So, our experience of Tenjin matsuri wasn’t altogether successful (although we did see a lot of interesting things). What should we have done differently? I think if we were doing it again, we would just arrive early, stay at the green area on the tip of Nakanoshima island, and watch the boat procession from there. And maybe it would have been possible to see the fireworks from there too, I don’t know for sure.

Note on the word of the day:

花火 hanabi means “flower fire”. Isn’t that nice?

 

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5 thoughts on “花火 hanabi—fireworks

  1. Hi Dara,
    I was wondering about the “peace sign” the two people in your photo are making. I have a number of photos of people I met in Japan, and most of them are making that sign when they pose for a photo. Do you know if there is any significance, or is it just the done thing when having your photo taken?

    1. That’s a good question, Fjon. It’s true that when you take someone’s photo in Japan, they almost reflexively make that hand gesture. But it has no deep cultural significance. It didn’t exist before the 1970s.

      1. I looked it up out of curiosity and found this interesting explanation. I thought there was some cultural meaning I was missing but I guess not!

        WWII was the first time many Americans entered Asian countries on a wide scale – sure, a few tourists visited before, but during WWII and Vietnam there were large numbers of American soldiers staying in Asian countries for long stretches of time. Many of these soldiers hoped for peace and an end to war, so they would flash the peave symbol in many of their photos. When the soldiers befriended the Asian civilians, such as the children of a village, they would sometimes take pictures (a technology unknown to many rural villages) and teach the people the simple peace sign. Many of the civilians took this to be part of the the picture-taking process, like saying “cheese”. And from there it simply became a cultural habit.

        And most tourists, no matter their nationality, take lots of pictures when traveling. If you’re only going to be in a place once in your life, it’s nice to take a memory that won’t fade.

      2. I’d say that explanation sounds very made up and doesn’t fit the facts. For whatever reason, the Japanese started doing this in the 1970s, 20 years after the end of the US occupation.

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