This annual hanabi-taikai has roots dating back to 1732 when it was first held in remembrance of the those who had died of starvation in the plagues that afflicted Edo during that period. From its early days, it was a competition between two firework manufacturers—a traditional that exists to this day and the reason why the Sumidagawa Firework Festival has two locations from which the fireworks are launched. This is also the reason you may hear traditional shouts of “Kagiya” or “Tamaya”—these were the two major firework makers back then.
The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (隅田川花火大会, Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai) has been held every year since 1978 and is today one of the most famous firework events in the capital, attracting about one million each year. Some buy tickets to roof terrace events well in advance, others arrive early to get a spot where the view isn’t entirely blocked by buildings, and the rest queue in front of the bridges that cross the river waiting their turn to walk across and get a clear view of the fireworks (for just 5 minutes).
The fireworks start at 7pm and lasts for 90 minutes, and the event may be cancelled in the case of bad weather (unlike other fireworks events due to the level of preparation this one is unlikely to be postponed). Perhaps for that reason, the event is known to go ahead almost regardless of rain and clouds.
The fireworks are launched from the two locations show on the map below. Note that Asakusa Station is extremely crowded in the lead up to the event so many opt to alight at a nearby station and walk.
Where are the best spots to see the fireworks?
Popular viewing spots include:
- Section under the highway north of the venue near Tsutsumidori Park and Dozohori Park, or under the highway between the launch venues on the east side of the river (will need to arrive early to secure a place)
- Shioiri Park to the north
- Sumida Park (probably need to arrive in the morning to secure a place)
- Seated along the road east of the lower launch venue. View is partially blocked by buildings, but the larger fireworks can be seen clearly. Kiyosumi dori also provides a good exit route once the fireworks have finished
- Or you can join the masses and queue to cross one of the bridges during the event. The bridges obviously provide a superb view, but you will be ushered across in about 5 minutes and views of the fireworks while you are queuing are for the most part blocked by office blocks. The official event website has a map of the event area and pedestrian routes (Japanese only).
While the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is the most famous fireworks event to take place over the summer, there are a multitude of other events in and around Tokyo. See here for a full list of firework events and some tips on getting the most out of the evening.