Thursday, August 15, 2013

Tokyo: A Preview & About: Sumida River Fireworks Festival

Thank you for watching. -S.Y.

One crazy event I experienced:

A fellow Elliott School student, Alicia Rose, and I went to this year's Sumida River Fireworks Festival (隅田川花火大会). Japan has a long history of fireworks because it was said to ward off evil spirits. Thus, every summer there are several fireworks festivals all over Japan. It's an exciting scene because hundreds if not thousands attend these festivals. You can seem men and women dressed in their traditional yukata (浴衣) buying street food, laughing, and taking pictures.  

I was told that around 20,000 people show up annually to watch Tokyo's most famous fireworks festival at Sumida River. Later I found out that close to a million people gather in Sumida-ku to watch nearly 20,000 rounds of fireworks. 

When we first arrived, it was crowded, but not completely out of hands. That changed quickly. Alicia and I basically rode the wave of people in one direction to another. There were cops everywhere trying to control the crowd and set up barriers that created paths for people to follow. Then it started to rain. We ended up running into a Burger King for shelter and hoped the rain would stop in a few minutes. Contrary to our expectations, we got cozy in the tiny BK lounge for an hour with at least a hundred other people.

We saw exactly one firework, then called it a night at a cheap soba noodle shop. I'm not sure if being swept by waves of people and drenched from head to toe contributed to the taste of our meal, but it was the most delicious bowl of noodles I have ever had. 

It was a shame that the Sumida River Fireworks Festival was cancelled for the first time in history due to heavy rain. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that I missed out on an amazing sight. Despite the weather forecast (that we failed to check) that many people knew about, still hundreds of thousands of people showed up in their yukata and geta (traditional footwear) to celebrate. I truly felt the power of a unity. It made me think about the values of a nation. I set aside power and money for a brief moment and wondered about what people really want. When I look at the balance between work and leisure in Japan, it appears that there is an overwhelming emphasis on work. However, it was amazing to see Japan celebrate just as hard to maintain their beautiful culture and traditions.

Soohyun Yang
B.A. International Economics and Japanese Language and Literature 2014
Sigur Center 2013 Japanese Language Fellow
Sendagaya Japanese Institute, Japan

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