The hot months of July and August mean summer holidays for students, crowded trips back to the ancestral home for families and plenty of festivals all over Japan.
Fireworks are something everyone looks forward to in the summer months. Fireworks displays are often massive events all over Japan, and often last for at least an hour.
Fireworks festivals also provide an opportunity for highly-skilled artisans to compete and see which team can create the most elaborate display.
Fireworks in Fukui Prefecture. (August 1st, 2015)
The family went to see the fireworks display. (August 1st, 2015)
There has been surprisingly little research on the history of fireworks in Japan. The practice is said to date back to the 16th century, and the introduction of firearms to Japan by Europeans.
Some researchers suggest that the modern practice of holding massive fireworks displays in Japan dates back to a memorial service in the 17th century in Edo (now called Tokyo), to pay tribute to victims of famine and a cholera outbreak.
Indeed, while the summer months in Japan are a time to have fun at festivals and at the beach, fireworks festivals in Japan are typically held during or quite close to O-Bon, a time when many Japanese families remember the dead in mid-August.
Sometimes fireworks displays are included as part of O-Bon ceremonies.
In this video, as part of an O-Bon ceremony in mid-August, participants are preparing for toro-nagashi (灯籠流し), where paper lanterns are released down a flowing river. The laterns are said to guide the spirits of the dead back to the nether world.
Participants usually return to their family's ancestral when taking part in the ceremony.
However, fireworks festivals are held in Japan throughout July and August, and are not always tied to the August O-Bon holiday.
PLA Art of Fireworks festival, Tondabayashi, Osaka.
Some parts of Japan also hold stupendous “fire festivals.” The small seaside community of Oi, about two hours north of Kyoto, holds an annual event each August that sees gigantic wooden torches set alight to create a spectacular blaze.
The O-Bon holiday does tend to make watching fireworks a family affair. Families return back to home towns to observe the O-Bon festival of the dead. Summertime is a time for families to get together, and watching fireworks together often becomes a treasured family memory.