Friday was the date for the fireworks display in Kumano (熊野). For three years I have been hearing about this spectacular exhibit and how I must watch it. Summing it up, I would say they launched 10,000 fireworks in about 2 and a half hours, several of them being unique shapes, styles and colors. If you do the math you’ll find that comes out to about 1 per second; there were several long breaks in the show, so that would put the average during launch times a bit higher.
One point that has struck me about Japanese fireworks in comparison to American fireworks, is the structure of a show. Typical American shows tend to follow a pattern much like choreographed dance: building and releasing tension; occasionally pausing to reflect on the last movement and prepare for the next; and ending with some intense finale. Japanese shows tend more towards size, brilliance, noise level, and quantity. They are certainly not without merit for artistic arrangements, but I have often been convinced that shows had ended when they were hardly just beginning.
The Kumano show also included many announcements over PA, letting us know who was sponsoring the next set of fireworks and some detail about what would be included in that section. Half of the sponsors were families of people who had died three years ago. Both Buddhist and Shinto tradition include a series of dates after a death that various types of ceremonies and memorials should occur. I don’t know the fine details, but the third O-Bon (お盆) season must be significant. Other sponsors included: a mandarin orange company, a bank, and a tourism council.
While some differences felt awkward, I greatly enjoyed the show and wonder why I haven’t been to see fireworks in a good ten or fifteen years. It is such a simple pleasure.
Unique fireworks that caught my attention were: mandarin orange-shaped bursts; round bursts of color that turned into oval rings of white; and enormous fountain-like items that were fired out of cliff formations on a nearby peninsula. One type of firework is, to the best of my knowledge, only used at this event. A boat (or sometimes two) would troll across the bay lobbing shells out the back, as if setting up a minefield. The shells were timed. As they exploded on the surface of the water, they looked like half of a normal firework or, for another variety, like a conical burst. The largest was reportedly 600 meters across and blew my hair (which isn’t particularly long) back.
We managed to get train tickets to return the same night on a charter. This was quite handy, because I had a Saturday morning class and you need to make hotel reservations about a year in advance. The location is also incredibly remote. Here is a map of Mie Prefecture (三重県). Nagoya (名古屋), the biggest nearby city, is at the north of the bay in the green area. If you follow down the coast of Ise Bay (伊勢湾) through Mie, you will find: Kuwana (桑名), land of historic samurai battles; Yokkaichi (四日市), home to refineries and chemical plants; Suzuka (鈴鹿), Formula-1 race track; Tsu (津), prefecture seat; Matsusaka (松坂), source of the famous beef; Ise (伊勢), cradle of the Shinto faith; and Toba (鳥羽) and Shima (志摩), resort areas for boating, fishing, and swimming. From here the coastline turns and the land is exposed to the Pacific Ocean (太平洋). This is only halfway to the southern point of Mie, which is where we find Kumano (熊野); three or four hours from Tsu by train. Kind of like having a big event in Forks, WA that hundreds of thousands of people wanted to see. But, why?
Kumano is connected to the old Capitols of Kyoto (京都) and Nara (奈良), as well as Ise, by a system of very old roads through the mountains. Pilgrims would walk from place to place on these stone roads. The forests of Kumano also have some ancient significance to the faith, which I can’t fully recall. Anyhow, Kumano may be as remote as Forks, but it is considered a lot more special (no offense to any Forksians who read this).
Tons more to write, but I’ll stop here lest I lose all my readers.