Nagaoka Fireworks Festival
One of Japan’s Top 3 displays.
Usually just a low-key town blessed with delicious rice and rice wine, Nagaoka becomes a nerve center for more than half a million people with its Nagaoka Fireworks Festival every August. While big and small fireworks festivals fill the calendar of Japanese summers, few carry as much history and emotion as the one in Nagaoka, which is one of Japan’s Top 3 displays.
Throughout the decades, this annual burst of colors has lifted many Japanese locals’ spirits. The perhaps not well-known but small city in northern Niigata Prefecture was bombed during World War II and witnessed the death of 1,500 people, as well as up to 80 percent destruction of the city. In 1946, a year after the event, the city started the fireworks festival in order to mourn for the deceased.
Every year from Aug. 1-3, hundreds of thousands of people flock to the banks of Shinano River near Oteo Bridge to get a charge out of the large-scale firework displays and heart-shaking echoes. Not only do the 20,000 fireworks (over two nights) illuminate the night sky with constant color, but they also come in the shape of chrysanthemum, bouquets, volcanoes, and Niagara Falls — just to name a few.
Among many fireworks, the “Pheonix” is definitely the highlight of the festival. With five minutes of fireworks timed perfectly with Ayaka Hirahara’s powerful song “Jupiter,” written to lift up local spirits after a disastrous earthquake in 2007, many people are moved to tears.
Visitors should note that the fireworks take place on Aug. 2 and 3, while other events such as mikoshi (portable shirnes) parades, traditional dance processions and toro nagashi (floating paper lanterns down a river) take place on Aug. 1.
Nagaoka gets very busy during the three-day festival so make sure you allow sufficient time (probably hours before the official start) to claim a spot in the free spectator areas which are further away. If you’d like to have a more spectacular view of the fireworks, check out the prices of admission tickets below.