We made it to Gifu yesterday for the fireworks spectacular. We left Nagoya around 2:30 pm to make sure we could arrive in Gifu at the hottest time of day. It was hot – no doubt about it. From the train station we had about a 30 minute walk to the river where the fireworks were being held.
We started walking on the sunny side of the street, but fortunately Steve suggested that we walk on the shady side. Not a bad idea. Here’s a map of our journey. Sort of. We did go from Point A to Point B on the map, but Google Maps left us a little short by walking, and seemed to take the great circle route.
When we got to the river bank, there was no doubt that we were hot, it was going to be really hot, and we had hours to go before the main event actually started. As we got to the river, we saw a thermometer that said it was 39 degC. That’s over 100 deg F. Plus high humidity. If 299,997 Japanese can survive this weather and the fireworks, surely 3 foreigners can. Steve, always on the lookout, suggested we sit by the river under the shade of a bridge. I initially objected because I thought I wanted to be closer to the action. However, I was pretty quick to realize maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. Wouter and Steve found their favorite large rocks to sit on, while I opted for a more distributed pad of smaller rocks. I could have a series of small bruises on my butt at this point, but I haven’t checked and I have requested anyone to check for me.
We were very near the water, and that cools things off as well. Lots of the Japanese wore traditional summer wear – called 浴衣 (yukata). It is sort of like a robe for men, and a lighter weight kimono for women. For the guys I can imagine they are cool – you get a good breeze! For the women – they suffer! You can see the guy and the girl in the picture. Actually, the guy isn’t wearing full yukata. Instead, he’s wearing shorts and a shirt in the style of yukata. I’m not sure why you wear yukata to summer festivals – maybe it is like wearing red, white and blue on the Fourth of July.
Like any summer celebration anywhere in the world, there are food stalls, beer, and people.
We mostly hung out in our shaded river spot and watched the world around us happen.
We all noticed how generally calm people were in this gathering. We didn’t see any tempers flaring as they waited. Just people hanging out with friends and family having a good time and trying to stay cool. Steve amazed the Japanese with his rock skipping abilities. After a few particularly successful skips, he got a few comments of “sugoi!” which means “Great!”
There were a group of Japanese boys that looked like they just stepped out of an anime. They sat behind us at first and were being loud and smoking cigarettes and we thought, “Great.” Then they wandered off and came back in front of us. Their yukata seemed to be purchased from a party store to try to be really hip and modern. But as the night went along, they became more and more entertaining. They were trying to get the courage to come talk to us and you could hear them practicing their English. They never actually got the courage for a full discussion but they did shout some “hellos” to us. Japanese boys can be very confusing – they had lots of bling and painted nails and were probably on the prowl for some girls that looked exactly like them!
The fireworks did not disappoint. The preliminaries started while it was still light, so that was strange. But once the real show started at 7:15 pm (yes, that early). Holy Cow! It was like one grand finale after another. I think it was a competition so all the different manufacturers just strutted their stuff. It went on for one and a half hours. It was overwhelming. It is always hard to take fireworks pictures. I tried to get some, and I think the pictures below capture the flavor. Of course, unless you really focus on the photo and not the show, you won’t get much. I wanted to enjoy the show!
After the fireworks, all 300,000 people start heading for their car, buses, home, or the train station. We stayed until the end, but then Steve was on a mission to get to the very front of the crowd. By this time it had cooled down to maybe 31 degC with even more humidity. Of the three of us, I’m the shortest so our strides were significantly longer than families with small children, the elderly, and Japanese in traditional summer clothes! We were able to pass thousands of people on our way to the train. We got to the train station in front of the mob, hopped on a train, found some seats, and the doors closed and we were on our way home. Definitely a good time. I’m just really glad we avoided the sun most of the day.