In Britain where I grew up, firework displays usually happen on the 5th of November. They’re impressively cold, less impressively spectacular and involve burning an effigy of some poor chap who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case the wrong place being a cellar directly under the house of Lords (The UK’s upper house) full of explosives. As the people who were behind the plan were Catholic, the protestant government decreed that in a spirit of religious tolerance, this should be commemorated throughout Britain every November the fifth.
And so we had Guy Fawkes night, AKA bonfire night, immortalised in my childhood memories of damp rockets held up with beer bottles.
Then we came to Japan where they set off fireworks all through the year for any reason or none, with festivals throughout the summer, each one using enough explosives for the Battle of Waterloo. This is great for three small boys, so we head for a local festival. Unfortunately so do most other people within a hundred square miles, and as we arrive we’re confronted with marked and unmarked police cars across the road, lights flashing, with policemen all over the place. What appears to be a murder scene is actually all about directing traffic and when they find out we don’t live in the town, we’re directed to go and park elsewhere to watch the display.
As the explosions we can see are larger than the village itself this isn’t a problem, but Grandma-san is on a mission now and follows a road that gets gradually narrower until it peters out at a factory in a field. After consulting some locals she decides there’s a way through and despite much muttering from Grandpa-san about paintwork we head down an impossibly narrow gravel track with metre high grass on each side and down the middle. Just before we drive into a giant green house, we veer right and the wheels find tarmac once again, and back onto a road. I ask if this is the one which the police had blocked off. Much sniggering from Grandma-san.
Grandma-san tries to ask another policeman for directions in the local dialect, but he’s not convinced and shoos us into a patch of waste ground between several rice paddies and a boat workshop. This isn’t as bad as it sounds: in fact after a week of concrete and tarmac, it’s nice to feel wooden walls and grass again.
After all this we don’t get a lot of time watching fireworks, and what time we do have is frequently taken up by announcements for sponsors of the evening, but on the other hand it was warm, the fireworks we saw were spectacular, and best of all, no-one was burned on the bonfire.