Japan from the inside out

The hot and the cold of it

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 14, 2010

FIREWORKS are most often used to festoon a midsummer night’s dreamscape. In the United States, that night is invariably the Fourth of July, while in Japan, the big lights in the sky are saved for August, usually during the mid-month O-bon holidays.

But a group in Komatsushima, Tokushima, thought it would be appropriate to produce their celestial light show during a nominally more romantic season—the three days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Starting at 8:00 p.m. on the 11th they launched 25 blue, green, and pink fireworks over a five-minute period. (Haven’t we all had affairs of the heart with a similar trajectory?) Instead of a fountain of sparks, however, the show depicted hearts on fire. They followed it up on the nights of the 12th and the 13th with 10 launches each.

All three displays were unannounced, and they caught the city by surprise. That’s just the way the planners wanted it. The events were put together by a group of female fireworks technicians, or pyrotechnic technicians, as the professionals like to call themselves in English. One of them told the media their hope was that “People would feel lucky if they saw the hearts”.

That’s a dead giveaway the planners were women. A male pyrotechnic technician would have said “get lucky” instead of “feel lucky”.

Some folks in Japan chose a different method to light up the night over the weekend. Farther north, in Yonezawa, Yamagata, they took to heart the old advice to turn lemons into lemonade by turning all their excess snow into lanterns.

The townsfolk pitched in to do all the work for the Uesugi Snow Lantern Festival on Saturday and Sunday this weekend at the city’s Matsugamisaki Park. They used trowels and shovels to dig out the snow and carve the lanterns at the park. Also over the weekend, design majors from the Yonezawa Technical High School took on the equally ambitious project of creating a snow sculpture of an early version of the Tsubasa Shinkansen train. Assisted by some junior high school students, they sculpted the snow in front of the city’s JR station.

Meanwhile, back at the park, the Yonezawans made 300 toro-style lanterns, which you can see on this page, and 3,000 lanterns of a different style called bonbori. And lanterns they were—6,000 candles were placed inside them all and lit from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. both nights.

Watching the fireworks would have been fun, especially if they came by surprise, and I would have liked to see how that heart design worked out. But my preference for Valentine’s Day would have been the lanterns. They’re more romantic, if only because they light up less of the terrain and make it easier to maneuver!

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