Pilgrims of lights


Summer is not summer without fireworks or hanabi in Japan. It is a greatly anticipated happening since the Edo period. My first hanabi was The Great Fireworks of Sumidagawa, Tokyo, in 2010. It was a mind-blowing experience, mostly because the sheer number of spectators. I did not come early enough, did not get a place to sit, and could not see the fireworks except for a few sparks from behind some buildings in Asakusa. It was totally unenjoyable and I could not see the reason to go back there in the following year. My second hanabi in 2011 was The Great Fireworks of Oyama in Tochigi Prefecture. Again I was not mentally prepared for the large crowds, I could barely move forward to find a vantage point to see the fireworks. I came back home even way before the festival finished. My third hanabi in 2012 (again in Oyama) was another story of complete disaster. Despite being well-prepared mentally and physically (I even wore the summer kimono (yukata)with the help of a Japanese friend), arriving early enough to secure a viewing spot, I did not manage to get a decent picture since my tripod was not functional. I felt sorry for my Japanese friend because she could not understand why I had to be so pissed off about not getting a firework picture.

So came the summer of 2013 and me with my resolution to get a nice firework shot before I could rest in peace (or leaving Japan in peace). I skipped the Oyama fireworks but prepared myself for a smaller summer festival in Moka , a town 15 minutes by car from Shimotsuke where I live, on the last day of August. Forgot the yukata, I said to myself. I just stick to the casual photo-enthusiast attire. Arrived ahead of time at 4 pm, I was not the only one trying to secure a vantage point for the 8.30 pm hanabi. Two Japanese with intimidating lenses had already took their spot, whom I joined right away for I believed that they know where the best spot was.

The Moka Summer Festival was among the last festival this summer. Since the scale is small, I could focus on the dance and music being played, and not on pushing myself forward among the crowds. It was really a leisurely festival with no long queue in front of the food stalls. The only long line I saw was as people trying to get a 500 yen lottery coupon (is summer the best time to try your luck?). I could see that everyone was enjoying their time there, especially this luminous little girl who kept on giggling as I shot her.
Hanabi2

Or this family of four with well-coordinated yukata pattern who were so deep in watching the Hula dance.Hanabi3

This gang of high school boys did not want to miss the festival either.
Hanabi4

Remember, just don’t miss your chance of getting 500 yen lottery, even if it means that you have to queue (quite a long one).
Hanabi7

But then, you can always relieve the standing strain by enjoying this energetic performance of the drum dancer.
Hanabi8

Then, my three-year-long awaited moments, the burst of colorful fire in the night sky!Hanabi10

Followed by the dancing red stars.
Hanabi9

And the curiously shaped sky urchin (seriously!)
Hanabi12

But, my favorite was this one.
Hanabi5

Thank you Moka, thank you summer. We are the pilgrim of lights are gratefully ready for whatever comes ’til the next summer!
Hanabi6

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