Watching Fireworks with A Million People

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August 7, 2012

No one does crowds like the Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo

The Sumidagawa is a large river that snakes through Tokyo’s downtown. There are several bridges crossing over it downtown near the Asakusa district, which is where the fireworks festival is held every year on the last Saturday in July. This festival is one of Tokyo’s biggest annual celebrations: over ONE MILLION people attend every year. I had never been in a crowd of a million people before, so let me tell you: It is a LOT of people. There were so many small moments going on between spectators.

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You could tell I was from big ol’ Canada, with its whopping 10 people per kilometre squared (compared to Japan’s over 200) because sometimes I would stop watching the pyrotechnics just to stare at what was happening around me. I’ve lived in decent-sized cities before (Halifax, Hamburg) but I still felt like a little country mouse in the big city. The Tokyoites somehow manage to ignore each other and move as a crowd at the same time, without getting distracted by anything that’s going on around them. .

On my way back from the fireworks, walking with the huge crowd, sometimes I would just be looking around at buildings near me, checking to see if any of them had ladders so I could just scramble up above the crowd and breathe for two seconds. Alas, no. Despite the crowd, the event was pretty fun though. Lots of crazy fireworks, including a Pikachu-shaped one. Pretty amazing stuff; lots of fireworks crews from all over Japan compete to see who can produce the most impressive show. Getting close to the actual river was impossible, most people were watching from at least 3 or 4 streets back. Luckily, they shoot the fireworks pretty high up so even if you’re caught a few streets back you have a pretty good chance of seeing them from one of the two locations.

Also, amazingly, the hostel where I was staying was pretty much right around the corner from where most people were watching, so it was one of the few things I saw in Tokyo that I didn’t have to spend a half an hour on the subway to get to.

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