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Fire Flowers

Flower viewing has been popular in Japan since ancient times.
In the spring, people fill the gardens and parks to watch flowers bloom.
And in the summer, crowds form to watch them BOOM.

These are blossoms with an attitude, called Hanabi - Fire Flowers.
In the west, they are better known as fireworks.

The Chinese invented fireworks in the 10th century.
A mere seven hundred years later, the Europeans (Portuguese according to one source, British according to another) introduced them to Japan.
Which is like having tacos introduced to the United States by Vietnamese sailors - five hundred years from now.

Glenns' Wonderings

I guess the Chinese and Japanese weren't talking.

As usual, the Japanese quickly made up for lost time. 
They adopted and adapted these fire flowers, weaving them into the fabric of Japanese life. 
Popular belief held that viewing fireworks would cool you on a hot summer day, so displays were arranged all through July and August. 
That tradition continues today.

My first experience with hanabi took place at Tokyo's 1993 Sumida River show. This is the biggest and most important fireworks event in Japan, and it has been held, fairly regularly, since 1733.

Knowing that this would be a crowded event, we headed to the river early. We arrived, however, to find that our two-hour head start had put us eight hours behind everyone else.
Tokyo - normally a city of concrete, pavement, cars, and cigarette smoke - was now a sea of makeshift mats, beer, dried squid, and cigarette smoke. 
And about one million people

All the sidewalks and open areas around the river were full. 
We wandered for an hour, but still couldn't find a place to sit. 
Finally, the police closed off some streets, and we raced fifty thousand people to get a prime piece of asphalt. 
After an epic battle, we secured one square meter of road to sit on, and toasted our success with a cold beer.

Then the fireworks started. 
We knew this because we could hear the explosions. 
Unfortunately, buildings on each side of us prevented our actually viewing the show. Well, we didn't come all this way to listen to fireworks, so we got up (quickly, as the crowd swallowed up our vacated space like some kind of kamikaze vortex) and found a spot where we could see half of the displays.

The show was loud, colorful, and creative.
Japanese fireworks makers like to display clever images in the sky. 
We saw exploding 'smiley faces', exploding eyeglasses (some argue that these are bikini tops - proving that we see what we want to see), and exploding Mickey Mouse heads (a dream come true for me). 
I also saw some exploding sperm - which may not be the effect the designers were intending.

During the climax, there was a barrage of sparkling white clouds, with starbursts and screaming strands.
For one moment, I thought I saw god (or the appropriate Buddhist equivalent), but it could have just been the delirium induced by 980,000 sake-filled Japanese, crushing me while they gasped "ooo" and "aah".

Anyway, it was impressive and a lot of fun and I'll never do it again.
Don't get me wrong, we still watch the fire flowers. 
We just pick better spots now.

GH 08/00
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