The Sumida River Fireworks Festival (Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai 隅田川花火大会) is one of the major fireworks shows in Tokyo. On the last Saturday of July, several tens of thousands of fireworks are launched from barges anchored along the Sumida River between Ryogoku and Asakusa to the delight of young and old. There is an intense competition between rival fireworks pyrotechnic groups with each group trying to out-do the other resulting in an incredible variety of fireworks and shapes.
This video of the 隅田川花火大会 2012 Sumida River Fireworks Festival by ChannelAGG shows some of the spectacular and complicated designs by these fireworks artists.
The tradition of the Sumidagawa fireworks festival can be traced back to 1700’s to the Edo period, when fireworks, the called Ryogoku Kawarabirak, were launched as part of festivals for the dead. The country was in facing difficult times, and the people suffered from a period of inordinate famine and disease. Thus, the rituals and celebrations in which the fireworks took part played multiple roles. These were mourning observances for the dead, as well as a celebration of life, and entertainment, for the poverty-stricken populace.
This fireworks tradition survived the centuries but ceased almost entirely after the 1920’s due to war and economic reasons and then was revived in 1978 under a new name, Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai (Sumida River Fireworks Display).
Good spots for viewing the fireworks display are along the Sumida River with the neighborhood around Asakusa Station packed with spectators. Venue 1 is from downstream of Sakurabashi Bridge to upstream of Kototoibashi Bridge and Venue No.2 is located from downstream of Komagatabashi Bridge to upstream of Umayabashi Bridge. It can be very crowded with people coming very early to find a place to sit so be prepared to stand and give your children a shoulder-ride to see above the seas of people for at least the lower fireworks.
Not only are the fireworks spectacular but the festive atmosphere during the evening is a pleasure to experience. Many Japanese dress in yukata and stroll the streets around Sensoji Temple where you can find yatai street food and games. Restaurants around this district also have outdoor seating which allows you to have a great meal and a few drinks and enjoy the fireworks.