Tonight I met up with my old history teacher/debate coach from high school, Kerry Koda, and went to see a fireworks show. Koda actually was assigned to the same town as I am, but as she just finished her year teaching in the JET program, it was her last night in town. Kind of a shame, would have been fun to hang out with her as a fellow teacher.
Fireworks, or hanabi, are a big deal in Japan during the summer time. Girls put on their 浴衣 yukata - light, colorful cotton robes that were originally worn after bathing - their sandals, and carry these ridiculous tiny bags on long string handles that somehow serve to make them look even cuter. Guys sometimes also wear yukata, or sometimes a sort of loose cotton coat along with shorts and sandals. Of course, as usual in Japan, usually it seems like only the girls are dressed up, and the guys just wear whatever. Anyways, people go out with their friends and families to the big fireworks displays - 花火大会 hanabi taikai - held all over the country. Here is a picture of two girls yesterday on their way to hanabi wearing yukata. They are both taking pictures of a guy in a monkey suit, and I am taking a picture of them, since they might as well be wearing a monkey suit to me.
I was so so about the idea at first, because fireworks don't really do it for me so much, but I figured at the very least there would be a ton of cute girls all dressed up. The display was held in Fukaroi, a town 20 minutes by train from central Hamamatsu. And the place was packed, at least five thousand people there, with the roads blocked all the way there and back. We walked down the path to the main field, lined with the red lanterns on the left side and people who had simply sat down and staked a place along the road to watch. Arriving at the main field, perhaps another three thousand people covered the grass clearing, making it essentially a sea of black heads and flowered-print bath robes. Circling the clearing were all the stands you find at every Japanese festival: yakiniku (grilled meat kabobs), okonomiyaki (sort of a pancake with vegetables and meat inside), kara-age (fried chicken), and of course, lots of beer. We grabbed some food and, wading our way through the crowd (with me leading, since Japanese part before me like Moses at the sea) and found a spot to watch up on a hill behind the clearing. Despite my initial misgivings, it turns out these Japanese take their fireworks pretty seriously; this was a pretty damn impressive display, especially considering it was held in a pretty small town outside the city. They had been going off the entire time we had been in the area, and it went on for another half hour, culminating in a giant Mt. Fuji made out of fireworks going off low to the ground. This was, strangely, accompanied by the song played at school graduations. Well, strange if I weren't in Japan, I suppose.