Summer is the time for fireworks in Japan and grand displays are put on all over the country. Firework displays range in scale from small events sponsored by local towns and villages to grandiose events attracting large numbers of viewers. Every year some 900,000 people flock to see the famous Sumida River Fireworks in Tokyo and the display is usually televised nationwide. Traffic is redirected and 10,000 police officers brought out to control the crowds.
In Osaka, the Church of Perfect Liberty holds an annual festival on August first in which 120,000 fireworks are put on display, the largest number for any single fireworks display in Japan. The world's largest firework, the yon-shakudama is a ball approximately 120 centimeters across which can be seen at the Katagai Festival in Niigata. The yon-shakudama is shot 850 meters up to explode in a gorgeous ring 800 meters across.
While the most famous fireworks displays are those held in conjunction with summer festivals, competitive firework shows in which firework makers vie with each other to produce the most spectacular displays are also common. Two of the more well-known competitive fireworks shows are held in Omagari, Akita and Tsuchiura, Ibaraki. Thirty firework craftsmen compete in the Omagari show, which attracts around 650,000 viewers each year.
Young Japanese women in their teens and early twenties like to wear the traditional yukata, an unlined cotton summer kimono, when they go to watch a fireworks display. Fireworks displays are major summer events and schedules are usually published ahead of time in magazines and newspapers.
Japanese fireworks displays trace their origins to the early 1600s, in the Edo period(1603-1867), when shooting off fireworks along the banks of the Sumida River became a popular summer event. Commercial makers such as Kagiya and Tamaya in Tokyo were especially famous for their fireworks, and it was a common practice to shout "Kagiya" or "Tamaya" with each firework burst. You can still hear this kind of shouting in the crowds today.
There are smaller hand-held fireworks as well, readily available in the stores during the summer months. Sparklers, small moving fireworks, and miniature firework rockets can be bought for a few hundred yen and enjoyed in the yard at home, at local neighborhood gatherings, in parks, school yards, on river banks, and at the sea shore. These kinds of toy fireworks have been popular among the common people since the Edo period.