A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Hand-Held Fireworks (SENKO HANABI) Make Japanese Summer Nights SPARKLE!

Hand-held HANABI on a hot summer night in Japan

By Avi Landau

I have said it before- in Japan summer means fireworks! I forgot to mention, however, that by fireworks (hanabi), I was not only referring to  the kind that are launched up into the sky.

Kids playing with HANABI in Tsukuba

If you pass through any Japanese residential neighborhood at night in late July or August, do not be surprised to spot an orange-red or yellowish glow, not high up above, but low to the ground, often behind a wall or fence –  emanating, in fact, out of someone’s garden or yard. This will more often than not be accompanied (or preceded) by the smell of smoke and the sound of excited young voices.  If you have a chance to peek through the gate, or over the fence, you will surely see some kids, usually under the supervision of barbecuing or beer-drinking parents, playing with HAND-HELD fireworks ( senko-hanabi, literally- incense stick fireworks).

In fact, I can hear the cries of glee outside as I write this, wafting in my open window along with the smoke!

A variety of hand-held HANABI on sale at a drugstore in Tsukuba.

When these “fireworks” are lit, they sparkle brightly, eerily illuminating the wide-eyed, excited faces of the kids playing with them. The smoke they give off,  obscures parts of the scene, now here, now there, and then drifting off, with its  acrid, gun-powdery smell. The laughter, crackling, sparkling, and sulphorous odor, all combine to make for a distinctively atmospheric Japanese Summer`s night.

As magical and FLEETING as childhood itself.

Close-up of a hand-held fire-works package I found at the supermarket

You can buy cheap packs of  these hand-held fire-works ( also called Te Hanabi, hand -fireworks, or niwa-hanabi, garden fireworks) at ANY convenience store and at most toy stores.



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