The Sumida River runs through the east part of Tokyo, past one of the city's bulwarks of tradition, Asakusa, and the sumo center of Ryogoku. A little south of Asakusa, in Kuramaebashi, right next to Ryogoku, an annual summer fireworks festival is held, the Sumida-gawa (Sumida River) Fireworks Festival. The roots of the festival go back to 1733, when the Shogun of the day, Yoshimune (read more about Tokyo history), allowed fireworks to be let off in a festival commemorating the dead—and celebrating being alive—following a year of disasters in 1732.
Because of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, all the usual summer fireworks festivals in Tokyo were cancelled this year, except for this, the biggest of them, the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, held on the evening of Saturday, August 27, 2011. The festival thus retains its role as a commemorative and celebratory response to disaster.
Preparations for the festival began a week beforehand, with the banks of the river being fenced off, and barriers placed along Kuramaebashi Bridge to keep spectators well clear of the road.
On the day itself, police boats partitioned off one side of the river just south of Kuramaebashi to keep the spectator bank clear of sightseeing vessels, and, in the evening, just before the fireworks began, the section of overhead Metropolitan Highway 6 that runs alongside the Sumida River was closed to traffic, to prevent any accidents from motorists begin distracted by the fireworks. Edo-dori Street, running through nearby Asakusabashi was also closed to traffic, giving it a very festive atmosphere.
Thousands, probably tens of thousands, gathered alongside the river and on the bridge to watch the approximately two-hour display. Many were wearing traditional Japanese festival garb: yukata robe, geta clogs, and a folding fan for the summer heat and mugginess. There were scores of pleasure boats lined up on the river since mid-afternoon, also jammed with spectators.
The fireworks display started quite demurely and gradually grew in force, color, elaborateness (and loudness!) up to a mind-bending finale over the 90 minutes. Get the full grandeur of the spectacle on the YouTube video above.
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