yodogawa hanabi


6 August, 2005

After an early dinner, Aya-san and I headed over to Juso station so we could get a good seat for the fireworks. Even though Yodogawa Hanabi is just one of dozens of fireworks festivals that happen in the Kansai area during the summer, it’s one of the more popular offerings and several hundreds of thousands of people come every year. The fireworks at Yodogawa Hanabi last for about an hour and not for an instant does it seem like anything is being held back for a “grand finale,” since the entire evening is one long grand finale. In fact, the opening volley of fireworks was so large and produced so much smoke that the entire second volley was almost entirely obscured. For a second or so Aya and I thought that we might have chosen exactly the wrong place to sit, but then the wind blew the smoke away and we had a (mostly) clear view for the rest of the evening. Of course, while there are 20,000 fireworks launched at Yodogawa, that’s nothing compared to the 120,000 that are launched every year at the PL Fireworks Festival, which I missed this year simply out of ignorance. You can be sure that I won’t do that again.

It was actually an incredibly special evening for fireworks. When Aya and I got on the train it looked at first as if it might rain. It never really did rain, although there were a few sprinkles, but the cloud cover was at just the right altitude to reflect back some of the light given off by the fireworks so that the whole sky became, at times, like a color palette. Even better, however, was the fact that an incredible lightning storm began sometime during the middle of the hanabi display. This was classic forked lightning and it was ripping across the night sky every few minutes or so, sometimes from horizon to horizon. Even after the fireworks had stopped, the lightning continued for a good twenty minutes or so and almost everyone stayed to watch. The word for lightning in Japanese is “kaminari,” which essentially implies the anger of the gods (“kami”). While this particular scene could easily be read as a classic confrontation between the gods and their sacred domain and humanity’s attempts to appropriate this domain (think Prometheus) — a kind of “jealous god” reading — I would rather think that this was simply an example of the gods at play. And what better match-up could you ask for than electricity and fire?

For whatever reason — and it’s probably just the name (“hanabi” means “fire flower”) — the fireworks we were watching often resembled enormous chrysanthemums in a time-lapse bloom that seemed paradoxically slow in its explosiveness. Watching these flowers appear in the air while watching trains speed by at angles (with the occasional group of people watching from within the train’s otherwise almost empty windows), combined with the appreciative sighings and cheers of the crowd below — the river in the distance — was, as they say, “something else” all right.

Aya-san photos the crowd.
A few young women wearing colorful yukata. Note how the morning glory patterns on their yukata mirror the shapes of the fireworks.
Here’s a view of the world famous Umeda Sky Tower with the crowd beginning to gather on the river bank. This is one of the few places in Osaka where you can get an open view of the city, and this makes the fireworks doubly spectacular because not only can you see the skyline, but also the sky above, which is then filled in pyrotechnically.
Here’s a shot of the crowd gathering before the fireworks started. Aya-san and I were sitting at the very far left side of a crowd that extended for at least a mile, if not more. That glowing caterpillar in the middle is a highway of foodstalls. Most delicious.
It’s exremely difficult to capture the full gunpowder glory of hanabi with a digital camera. The digital delay is just long enough that the fire-flower that you thought you were capturing has faded away into the darkness. Out of about 100 photographs taken I could only find a dozen or so that I liked. And none of these photographs really capture the scale of these fireworks, which were simply enormous. You could note the rail bridge over the Yodogawa for scale, or the skyline in the background, but none of these photographs comes close to the proper expression.
What does it take to get hundreds of thousands of people onto the right train? Men in blue with blue bullhorns — that’s what!

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