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Catching a Moment - Fireworks and Ricecrackers

JAPAN | Friday, 19 April 2013 | Views [358] | Scholarship Entry

The night air was thick with anticipation. We sat perched along the riverbank, toes skimming the grass over the edge of our wooden sandals, watching the parade of colours jostling past, waiting. It was the height of summer in Tokyo, and tonight was the famed Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival. A canopy of noise and activity was laid out before us. This is an event where ancient and modern Japan collide – where office workers and teenagers shed their modern clothes in favour of traditional summer kimono, where school kids gather and families come together, young and old.

One of my English students once told me that a woman is at her most beautiful wearing yukata, a summer kimono, and I see now what he means. Swaths of midnight blue are scattered with pink cherry blossoms, delicate shades of pale yellow and or periwinkle are sliced by obis in brilliant sashes of orange or white, and hair is piled high with jewels and flowers that tumble down and glitter in the night – the men, dressed in their sombre neutral tones, follow like moths compared to these beautiful creatures.

We watch and sip our sake, which sears down our throats – we’d picked them up from a vending machine on the way and it tasted cheap and alien – while young girls adjust their lip gloss, giggling feverishly at the boys, plotting their love confessions, and children tug at their parent’s sleeves, eyeing the sky expectantly. The summer heat, which had seemed so oppressive during the day, now provided a comforting blanket against the darkness. The traditional dress made you feel as if you’d stepped back in time to the Edo period, if you ignored the mobile phones and cameras. And then the night bursts into a thousand multi-coloured stars. Children shriek and clap, teenagers tentatively held hands, shooting secret glances at each other and businessmen, their ties now skewered at odd angles, cheer raucously and slug down another cup of sake. Every year is a competition between the rival pyrotechnic groups to out-do each other, which makes for a spectacular light show. Thousands of shapes fill the sky in competition; red hearts scratch across the velvety black, stars plaster themselves over them in response, while even popular cartoon characters make an appearance. When a large Doraemon explodes into the sky, the little girl next to me squeals in delight.

I sit and peel a rice cracker from its polite plastic wrapping, and think to myself - this could quite possibly be the greatest show on earth.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013

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