(Written on 2 August 2009)
The incessant cicada’s hymm ringing in the ear, strolling down the streets where scorching heat emanates from beneath. Gazing up into the blue sky, decorated with spots of fluffy white clouds, yet without the slightest sign of any imminent rainfall; Temperatures escalating to its thirties, beads of perspiration crystallizing and then skidding off the skin. Children in their swimsuits, with waterguns in their hands; Girls in their yukata, fans in their hands.
Summer: from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox, at least in Japan.
The cicadas bring with them a harbinger of summer. The songs vaguely heard from behind the bushes were as if produced by the blistering heat of the Sun. Summer vacation, something desperatedly looked forward by all students, has arrived. What it marks is not merely the terminal of the flurry of examinations, nor just the freedom bestowed to them. Summer has more to it than just those; Summer brings us closer to nature. Indeed, the flora and fauna come to life in the warm and fuzzy temperatures; People swarm the beaches to get a touch of the seawater and the sunshine.
Summer embraces a different connotation in Japan as there is a wide myriad of activities done exclusively in summer. Suika-wari, the game that involves smashing a watermelon while being blindfolded, is often seen played by Japanese at the beaches, or in the festivals. Another indispensable event in summer is the so-called “hanabi taikai”, or the fireworks festival. At these Hanabi Taikais, there are usually stalls set up along the streets selling the summer snacks such as chocolate banana (choco-banana), crushed ice with syrup (kakigori), hotdogs, grilled fish, ramune etc. Another attraction at the Hanabi Taikai is girls dressed up in the summer yukata, whom are often accompanied by guys dressed in the ever-monotonous male yukata. It never fails to amaze me how much the male and female yukatas differ.
At the event. hundreds of thousands of people gather at one spot to view fireworks being launched into the sky, where it explodes into various shapes, mostly shapes of a flower. Incidentally, the Japanese kanji character for “Hanabi” (which means fireworks) can be literally translated into “Flower of fire”.
With Hanabi Taikai being significant part of the season, and an event irremovable from our schedules, I took my pedal of playing the piano at home, and decided to join a bunch of friends for my second Hanabi Taikai this summer, (with the first one being at the Gasshuku about a month ago). It was held at Toda Koen, a 25 minutes train ride from where I stay, though it crosses the border of Tokyo and reaches the neighbour prefecture of Saitama. Not having been there before, it was a risk taken as I could have easily gone for the Hanabi Taikai at Yokohama, which I had been before one year ago.
Nothing could have gone worse as I made a fool out of myself even before reaching the destination. We had agreed to meet at “Toda Koen” Station at 630pm, and having being squeezed into the train packed with girls and guys in yukata like sardines, I could hardly see where I was. The noise level had increased in crescendo as all I could hear was buzzing noises in my ears. Train announcements were non-existent. Before I knew it, the throngs of passengers dressed in yukata started gushing out of the trains, and knowing that they were all going for Hanabi Taikai, I followed suit, and alighted from the train. As I stepped out of the train station, I followed the instructions of my friend to meet in front of an ice-cream store. However, there was no ice-cream store in sight and I started to take a detour in search of it. After a fruitless twenty minutes search, I gave them a call and as I turned back to face the station, I saw to my horror that I had alighted at the wrong stop. I had alighted one stop before Toda Koen. Realizing my mistake, I hurriedly jogged back to the station and took the train to the next stop and met up with the rest of the people.
The Fireworks show itself was totally amazing.
Undoubtedly the best I have ever seen in my one and a half years stay in Japan.
We had unbelievably good seats, right in front of the fireworks. The fireworks were really huge and went up really high up into the sky that we almost had to lie down to get a proper view of it. The weather was fantastic too. It was a cooling evening with occasional breezes that brush across our faces.
The fireworks was as if a collaboration between human and nature, explosives launched into the sky, dispersed in midair into the shapes of flower, then vanishing in the next second. Some other variations of the fireworks remained in the sky as they cling onto thin air, leaving a track of flames in their paths. The multitude of colours, the rhythmic releasing of fireworks, and the remnants left in the air was all in a package. As the last trace of flame was reduced to smoke, it triggered a series of thunderous applause and cheers from the audiences as if we had witnessed a painting performance on the drawing board of the sky, with sound effects.
It was all too amazing.
We were more or less left speechless by the perfect collaboration between the sky and us, humans.
The aftertaste of which was all too sweet, and the sizzling sounds of fireworks echoed in our ears, the flowers in the air remained as images in our eyes for a long long time.