Posted by: thewhitesintokyo | August 27, 2009

Getting Ready for Hanabi (Fireworks)

Last Saturday was one of our favorite parts of returning to Tokyo for school in the late summer: Hanabi.

Hanabi (I think that’s the name) is a huge festival with an estimated attendance of nearly 500,000 people that fill fields spaning a mile or two along the Tama River.  People flock to see an amazing celebration with fireworks, food stands, and what feels like a 1/3 of the Earth’s population.

Last year, we had just arrived in Tokyo, so we didn’t get to the fireworks until an hour or so before they started.  This year, we have primo-seats from our new apartment along the river and could see the excitement building for days.  Two days before Hanabi, hundreds of security guards (dubbed “Mushroom Men” because of their mushroom-like hats) set up ropes and blockades along the span of river where people would come to see the aerial light show.  This is only one of those groups getting prepped early in the morning of the Hanabi festival:

Mushroom Men

The next part of the story is one of those “only in Tokyo moments.”  At about 8:30am, when I woke up last Saturday, people were already lining the river- I assumed they were there to grab a spot for the fireworks that would start in about 12 hours.  Now I’ve heard of crazy people who stand outside stores all night to get some amazing deal in the morning (my brother Blake once camped out at a new McDonald’s to earn a free Big Mac a day for an entire year), but I noticed they weren’t staying at their posts.  People literally trust and respect each other enough here to acknowledge a few pieces of string as a legitimate claim on a small piece of land.  Reminds me of Imperial Britain and their flag-posting claims to land-ownership.  Except this was temporary and theirs attempted to be forever…but I digress.

I didn’t want to miss the action, so I ran out in my pajamas and claimed a spot of my own.  It’s tough to see in this photo, but it’s a big square made from string and chopsticks (as stakes in the ground) right to the left of the light pole in the middle of the picture.  MY spot, and don’t you forget it.

Brad's Hanabi Spot

Sure enough, after dinner with friends and about 9 hours had passed, we came back and the spot was still there!  The funniest part? I’d placed a one-square-meter tarp next to the string-box and a Japanese man in his 70s or 80s had found just enough room between the tarp and the sidewalk to make room for his mini-tarp too.  Awesome.  The Japanese are definitely masters of maximizing use of small spaces.  Another section of the river being claimed early in the day:

Hanabi Tarping



  1. Reminded me of Balloon Fiesta when we lived in Albuquerque (we could see the whole thing from our deck).
    Favorite part of this post: When you digressed.
    That tickled me. 🙂

    • I digress far too often, but I’m glad you were tickled. 🙂

  2. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of that respect for each other would spread around the world.
    However, I recall many performances at our church, entering the sanctuary more than an hour early, and finding the first three quarters of seats marked by coats, etc. and no one there to watch over them. We respected those placed coats with a great deal of frustration.
    I wonder if the Japanese feel that frustration.

    • It definitely seems part of the culture of the day to mark your spot, and since there is (strangely enough) plenty of room for the nearly half million people that show up, I didn’t see anyone getting frustrated. Interesting question though.

  3. […] on it’s own. We were enjoying a fireworks display on one of our first nights back in Tokyo. Here is a link for more about that night on my hubby’s blog, The Whites in […]

  4. One time Dennis Darling chewed me out at a lecture at Luther for putting a scarf on a chair next to me for a friend who was coming… Tokyo would have been nice right about then.

    Loving the new look! 🙂

    • Feel free to send him the blog with the subject heading of “Spite.”

      I’m still working on this new wordpress thing, but I think it’ll work out. Glad you like it! 🙂

  5. […] on it’s own. We were enjoying a fireworks display on one of our first nights back in Tokyo. Here is a link for more about that night on my hubby’s blog, The Whites in […]

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