“Oh look, it’s a heart!” I hear a child say to their parents. It is quickly followed by “And that one is a butterfly.” But it is not just the kids talking about the fireworks. I hear many adults awing at the beauty of the aerial displays and the different figures formed in the sky at the Suwa Lake Fireworks Festival.
Located in the southwest corner of Nagano Prefecture, about three hours from Tokyo by train, Suwa Lake’s illuminations are impressive and the main show, considered by many to be Japan’s best fireworks exhibition, lasts for two hours.
A Fireworks Extravaganza
But the city of Suwa is not just famous for one fireworks show. It is famous for having fireworks every night during the Summer Nights Fireworks Festival starting from the last weekend in July and going until the first weekend in September. The festival kicks off on Umi No Hi (The Day of the Sea) with a 40-minute opening. Then on the first Sunday in September the city holds a 30-minute closing show.
The city hosts a fireworks display every night in-between. On most nights residents are treated to a brusque, 10-minute display from 8:30 to 8:40pm. However, the city goes all out for two main fireworks shows.
Tourists from all over Japan arrive for the two-hour show on August 15. Crowds are treated to such fireworks spectacles as the dragon or the Niagara, in which rows of stringing fireworks decorate the night sky. Particularly breathtaking is the weeping willow, in which sparkling embers drape over the lake in the shape of a fan.
The Best and Brightest
Also not to be missed is the 90-minute affair on first Saturday of September. This show, which falls on September 1 this year, is when Japan’s best pyrotechnicians unveil their latest and most astounding innovations.
From chrysanthemums to star mines, the color combinations are bright, brilliant, and amazing. They pyro-maestros also create images out of their fiery bursts, such as the ringed planet Saturn and the easily recognizable Mickey Mouse. With smiley faces, fish, flowers, butterflies, and strawberries, children and adults of all ages will be wowed.
This show is definitely one of the best in Japan. Yes, better than Sendai’s Tanabata Fireworks festival or even the Sumidagawa firework show in Tokyo.
Visit Suwa Year Round
While the fireworks are the main attraction in the summer, Suwa also offers something special in all four seasons.
Suwa is mid-sized town in the middle of Japanese Alps. It has views of Mount Fuji and also Japan’s second most famous mountain – Mount Yatsugatake. It is also home to the world headquarters for Seiko- Epson. Though the nature and the multinational are well-known, it is Lake Suwa that dominates the city’s landscape and mythology. Prehistoric cultures created popular myths about the lake and practiced an ancient ritual that became the Onbashira festival that is held every six years.
In the spring the cherry blossoms surround Lake Suwa like clouds of cotton candy and in the fall the trees are full of changing colors. Because of the legend of Omiwatari, the lake attracts nearly as many visitors during the winter as it does in the summer. It is believed that two gods come from opposite sides of the lake and meet in the middle to embrace in a romantic hug. The thunderous embrace causes the ice to begin to break. Another ancient myth is that the loud cracking of the ice is caused by a dragon crossing the lake. People come from all across Japan to witness this phenomenon.
Whatever the time of year Suwa in Nagano is worth a visit. It is an easy day trip or a great weekend getaway from Tokyo. If you have time in the winter and can brave the cold, come see the cracking of the ice. In summer, be sure to check out the spectacular fireworks show. You’ll be glad you came.
Access: Suwa is located along the Chuo train line and express trains runs between Shinjuku and Matsumoto (180 minutes) stations. Local train service is available from Matsumoto (30 minutes). By car, Suwa is along the Chuo Line Expressway. Buses run hourly from Shinjuku (3 hours).