Surprise Fireworks Bring Delight, Consternation and Puzzlement to Tsukuba – and various cities throughout Japan (at 8 PM July 24th)
By Avi Landau
The 2020 Summer Olympic Games were supposed to be getting underway this week. But instead of spending the special National Holidays which had been designated for the occasion (on July 23rd and 24th) watching the Opening Ceremonies we`ve been keeping an anxious eye on reports of an ever-rising number of new corona-virus infections in Tokyo, and sticking to a strict regime of hand-washing, mask-wearing, and avoiding close-contact and crowded spaces.
And though I was not ever-really interested in the Tokyo Olympics (and thus not very disappointed in their postponement), I AM disappointed by the fact that Japan`s regular Summer events, the Gion Festivals (which I would normally attend every weekend in July at various locations) and the various ( and usually spectacular) fireworks events held around the country, have been cancelled.
But tonight (July 24th) at 8 PM sharp, after having spent another long humdrum day, I had just finished dinner and was settling down with a book when suddenly: WHIIIIIIIIIIIR POW!!!!!
I automatically turned toward the window and caught sight of streaming, glowing. colors to the west – a star-mine!
WHIIIIIIIIR POW! WHIIIIIIIR POW! WHIIIIIIR POW! It went on like that for a minute and a half – and during that time all the people in the neighborhood, it seemed, had been drawn out to their westward facing windows and verandas. People were calling out to each other in surprise, delight and of course, puzzlement (it was the first time in all my years in Japan that I heard neighbors communicating to each other by shouting from house to house!)
The big question my neighbors (and myself) were asking was – what were these fireworks for? Well, the internet quickly provided an answer (to those who could read Japanese) , so let me explain to those of you who can`t.
On the night of July 24th, at 8 PM sharp, fireworks were launched in all 47 of Japan`s prefectures at 120 different locations (in Ibaraki Prefecture they could be seen in Tsukuba, Kasama and Ishioka). It was the official launching of the National Issei Fireworks Project (全国一斉花火）sponsored by the Junior Chamber International Japan (JCI – the same people who bring us the Matsuri Tsukuba Festival) for the Tokyo Olympics. The event was not publicized that crowds would not gather outside and break social distancing rules.
Apparently there will be more surprise fireworks in the coming days (thru August 1st), as well, as part of what is being called the Kizuna Fireworks Project … though I have no idea where. There will be no announcements or warnings – because they are meant to be watched from your window – and not among crowds.
Social media, however, shows that many people were not very happy with the “surprise”. They found it annoying (it had irritated pets, awakened children, interrupted some other activity, were impossible to see from their homes, etc.) and deemed it a stupid waste of money.
I , on the other hand, thought the idea quite appropriate from the point of view of traditional Japanese culture. You see, in Japan, fireworks were never seen as mere entertainments – they were variously used as a form of prayer, consoling the spirits of the dead, or STOPPING EPIDEMICS!
So don`t be startled (like some people were), if you hear loud explosions at 8 PM in coming days…. they are just reminders…. and meager consolations… for what this summer might have been….