For countless Tokyoites, the annual fireworks spectacular over the Sumidagawa river makes the humid summer nights a tad easier to bear-and even look forward to.
This is an extravaganza of color, and of booming explosions.
Be warned: Whatever you do, don't miss the final 10 minutes. That's when about a quarter of the fireworks soar skyward, creating an orgy of color accompanied by thunderous explosions.
And here's a practical tip: Wear yukata, or summer cotton kimono. Be aware, too, that this event routinely draws a crowd of hundreds of thousand spectators. So it's best to arrive early to pick a spot, quaff beers and take in the bustling atmosphere. Better still, if you have a friend who lives in the area, watch it all from the comfort of a balcony.
While having fun is what this event is all about, there is a very serious aspect to the Sumidagawa fireworks display. The event is actually meant to console the souls of hundreds of thousands of people estimated to have died from famine and plague in the 18th century.
For a trip out of Tokyo, head for the Yamaage Festival in Nasu-Karasuyama, a city in Tochigi Prefecture that is famous for its traditional washi handmade paper. This is a pretty unusual festival. Here, Kabuki drama is staged in the streets and performed almost exclusively by teenage girls.
What makes this Kabuki all the more special is the sheer number of portable backdrops used for performances. Each "set'' is made of washi pasted in layers on bamboo frames that are shaped like mountains, buildings, bridges, waves and so on.
Audiences get a combination of an old cultural artform coupled with constantly changing sets-and it all takes place under a blazing summer sun.
Another fixture of summer is the Tsukuda Festival held every three years at the Tsukuda Sumiyoshijinja shrine in the old section of Tokyo's Chuo Ward. It features a rare octagonal shaped mikoshi portable shrine that is believed modeled on the throne used in enthronement ceremonies for emperors centuries ago.
Because of the heat, spectators splash water on the mikoshi carriers. So, take care.
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The Sumidagawa fireworks display on July 28 starts at 7:05 p.m. near the Sakurabashi bridge and later moves close to the Komagatabashi bridge. The nearest subway stops are Asakusa Station on the Ginza and Asakusa lines and Kuramae Station on the Oedo and Asakusa lines.
The Yamaage Festival is held at the end of July in Nasu-Karasuyama, Tochigi Prefecture. To reach JR Karasuyama Station, take the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya, switch to the Tohoku Line and change at Hoshakuji Station to the Karasuyama Line.
The Tsukuda Festival is held in early August every three years at the Sumiyoshijinja shrine, a 5-minute walk from Tsukishima Station on the Yurakucho and Oedo lines.
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