After we hiked Mt Fuji, we headed up to Nagaoka to watch one of the number one firework festivals in the world. How you ask?
This summer we were at our friend's bar in Yomitan for a going away party for some friends. While we were there, there was a Japanese guy drinking. Me, wanting to practice my Japanese, started up a conversation with him. Nate and I ended up having a few beers with him and our good friend 'google translate'. Yuya, the Japanese guy from mainland, ended up being friends with Hiro, the bar owner. We found out Yuya was from Nagaoka, a prefecture in northern mainland Japan (about 2 hrs north of Tokyo). Hiro and Yuya told us Nagaoka was famous for their firework festival in August - which is supposed to be one of the biggest in Japan (and the world). And as fate would have it, the festival was on August 2 and 3, days we would be up in mainland Japan to hike Mt. Fuji. Yuya, being the hospitable guy he is, invited us to come to the firework festival with him and told us we could stay at his place. Nate and I not wanting to miss an opportunity for a great experience and some fun memories, said #YOLO, and were determined to find a way up there after Mt. Fuji. And that my friends, is how we ended up watching the best firework festival of my life in Nagaoka.
So, after getting up at 4am, watching the sunrise at the top of Mt. Fuji, and hiking down; we boarded a bus back to Tokyo, and took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo 2 hours north up to Nagaoka. Our new friend Yuya, picked us up and took us back to his house. Nate and I got to stay in an extra apartment Yuya had and were very grateful to be able to take showers after hiking for 2 days straight! #ithinkeveryonewasthankful
After freshening up, we went across the street and got to meet Yuya's wonderful family: his mom and dad, cousin, 2 sons (Soha and Syuru), and girlfriend (Juri). His van was loaded up with coolers full of goodies, and we headed over to the festival to meet his friends.
We met some of Yuya's friends before the festival. Yuya came prepared - he had 2 squares reserved and lots of tickets for the festival. The whole grass and ground area was broken up into squares about 6 ft by 4 ft. Each person could reserve a square to watch the festival. We were so thankful for Yuya taking care of us and letting us come with him and his family to the festival. #legit He also had 2 coolers full of food (sushi, edamame, etc) and drinks. #yum #perfect The festival was also HUGE with both sides of the river surrounded by people, over 400,000 people attending each night #holyshit
FYI - here's your daily Japanese lesson: Hanabi (花火) = fireworks
They were originally used to ward off evil spirits.
The Nagaoka Firework festival is usually held around August 1-3. This is because on August 1, 1945, the bombs were dropped on Nagaoka City and about 1,500 people were killed - now the Firework Festival is a memorial every summer. This year it was on August 2 and 3 - we only attended one of the nights of the festival but each night features almost 2 straight hours of fireworks.
Yes - 2. Straight. Hours. It was AMAZING. Some of the largest shells (of fireworks) in Japan are used during the show including two massive Sanjakudama shells (90 cm (36 in) in diameter and weighing 330 kg (660 lbs)). The Sanjakudama shells are only a little smaller than the largest fireworks that have ever been launched! At one point - over 99 shells are launched AT THE SAME TIME.
Honestly, these were the best fireworks Nate and I have ever seen and have ruined fireworks for me for probably.... ever - nothing can compare to what we saw here. Imagine a finale of the firework show we usually see in America - yea - that was what the 'normal' part of the show was. They would do the American type of firework finale for a few minutes - then wait a few minutes for the sky to clear of smoke while they shot maybe one or two fireworks sporadically - then repeat. The finale covers almost 2 km of the riverbank of the Shinano River with so many fireworks going off at the same time! The fireworks seemed to take up almost the whole sky and would explode right over us. I couldn't even fit the whole show in my phone because it was so HUGE. Our pictures and video definitely don't do it justice but see a few samples below.
Here's a Youtube video of the festival this year - you can actually see the scale of it below:
After the amazing festival, Yuya asked if we were down for some karaoke #Japan Crazy enough, Nate and I weren't tired (#how?!) even after our long day, and told him we were in! So Nate and I joined Yuya, one of his sons, his cousin, and 3 of his friends. We went to a spot where they had a membership so we had our own room that we could bring the coolers into - BYOB and BYOF (bring your own food). We sang a mix of Japanese and English songs including Okinawa's theme song, some Taylor Swift, Eminem, and "Let it Go" (in Japanese - video below)
Check out a video of his son singing Frozen's "Let it go" in Japanese - tripped me out but it was awesome!
The next morning, Yuya and his family took us to a famous soba spot for brunch, Suzakaya. It was Nate and my first time eating cold soba and it hit the spot - perfect breakfast after our night before :)
We ordered about 3 plates of tempura, and two huge platters of soba noodles (one with seaweed and one without). We would pour cold broth in our little mug and take one of the knots of noodles and put them in there. You then could add some wasabi and green onions. Repeat until you are full. At the end - we poured some hot water in the broth and drank the leftovers. It was delicious! #oishi
After the fantastic meal, we got dropped at the train station for the train back to Tokyo so we could board a flight back to Okinawa. The trip was totally worth traveling up to Nagaoka for - for less than 24 hours - and we are super grateful for our new friend Yuya and his family - even though fireworks are forever ruined for us...... because we just saw the BEST FIREWORK SHOW EVER!
Megan Bond - AUTHOR
Just a girl raised in California and loved exploring Southeast Asia with my husband! We're back in the States but still exploring the world as much as we can!