I’ve never seen fireworks like these: Japan’s Top Three Firework Shows
Firework professionals all over the world compliment Japan for having the best techniques for making fireworks in the whole world. These professionals in Japan are talented and focused. Because of the high level of technical proficiency, it’s easy to tell the difference when these glorious fireworks open up in the night sky.
Continual progress is made every year in pyrotechnics. This is due to the fact that every year pyrotechnic professionals compete for the biggest and craziest displays in regular firework competitions and shows. In fact, there are so many firework competitions throughout Japan in summer, there’s just no way to count them all. If you happen to come to Japan then you should definitely get yourself to a firework show and see what we’re talking about. For those who may think, “Since I came to Japan, I want to see the biggest firework shows possible!” then you’ve got to know about the “Top Three Firework Shows in Japan [Japan’s Three Most Amazing Firework Shows]!”
◆Omagari National Fireworks Competition (Akita Prefecture)
◆Nagaoka Festival Fireworks Competition (Niigata Prefecture)
（Source：花火 / PIXTA)
◆Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition (Ibaraki Prefecture)
（Source：花火 / PIXTA）No matter which firework show you see, you’re bound to be amazed! We are sure you are pretty tempted to see one!
But wait! Over a million people from all over the country come to these places to see the firework shows all at the same time! This means potentially waiting for hours in large crowds before getting in super congested train stations and on trains packed to maximum capacity. For all the pain and suffering of waiting in large crowds, it’s because of the grand beauty and massive scale of these Top Three Firework Shows of Japan which put them on a completely different level from other normal firework competitions!
For all those who think, “I still want to see these firework shows!”, we’ll show you different ways on how to get the most impact for your time by avoiding the crowds and waits as much as possible while still catching your last train home!
Before going to a firework show in Japan definitely check this first! ⇒Perfect Guide to see Fireworks and Avoid Crowds!
There are written records of firework shows in Omagari, Akita, dating back to the early 1800s. After that, the first official firework show started in 1910. So now we have the Omagari National Fireworks Competition which boasts over 100 years of history. This in fact may be the firework show with the greatest authority in Japan. The reason for this is that the pyrotechnicians in charge of making the fireworks are the same who set them off, and compete here for various awards including the greatest award possible, the Prime Minister’s Award.
Omagari is a small town. Now, imagine this tiny town with only a few business hotels being visited by over 800,000 people in a day. This being the case, please don’t expect to find accommodation in Omagari. So, how exactly are we going to go see the show?
1. Don’t watch the show from the official viewing grounds
The Omagari National Fireworks Competition is renowned for being the one firework show of Japan’s top three that has the least amount of free seating areas. Actually, of all the seating areas, 3/4 will charge you an entrance fee. Furthermore, those admission fee required seats require entering lotteries months beforehand, getting these tickets for foreigners abroad is almost completely impossible. Then the locals survive by heading out early in the morning to claim the free seating areas! Got it? So first of all, let’s just give up on trying to watch the show from the official seating grounds!
◆Here’s the secret spot!
Only IKIDANE NIPPON will tell you about this secret spot.
The embankments of the river near Omagari Junior High School
This spot is an 18-minute walk from the train station making it even closer than the official admission required seating. There’s also a lot less crowds. Leave the embankment just 15 minutes before the end of the show and you can avoid a wait that may last up to over two hours for a shinkansen train (high speed bullet train) home! The purple-colored section with the red and white “粋” (“iki”) mark on the map below is the abovementioned section on the embankment of the river. Many of the locals know about this spot, so go ahead and join them for a seat to enjoy the show.
Embankment located near the Senboku driving school
This spot is located across from the western entrance to the official seating areas. This embankment is located in front of the Senboku driving school which is a 13-minute walk from the station. Head on over and watch from the purple section indicated on the map below. This is usually on the opposite side of the crowded areas and so getting in is relatively smooth. However, if you’re watching from here then you had better hurry to the station 15 minutes before the end of the show to avoid the majority of the crowds.
2. Watch the fireworks only until 21:00!
The main part of the firework show called the “Taikai Teikyou” lasts from 20:45 until 21:00. After this, there are still some more fireworks to come, but anyone who knows anything aside from the locals who live here will leave at this time. It’s all in order to make it for your train!
3. You can’t get back to Tokyo after the show!
It’s not possible to get back to the main cities in the Kanto and Kansai areas on the 21:00 shinkansen train. Which means your trip will include an overnight stay. The last shinkansen trains from Akita towards Tokyo are renowned for being early, but during the firework show, additional trains are scheduled to accommodate the crowds. The train times change slightly from year to year, so be sure to check the JR East Japan Railway website, or contact them by phone or email.
If you’re going to spend the night, we recommend Sendai city, well known for its fresh seafood. The hotels in the nearby cities of Akita and Morioka will most likely already be booked long beforehand. If you decide to head down to Sendai for the night, you can check out one of the official Top Three Scenic Views in all of Japan at Matsushima, be it near some excellent onsen (hot spring), or be it in a great base for visiting tourist destinations around Miyagi Prefecture. Also, compared to the area around the fireworks, there are many more available hotels to choose from. If you happen to have the Japan Rail Pass, then you have the possibility of accessing Hokkaido from Sendai as well. There are many possibilities to make your trip into a fabulous adventure.
However, there are lots of other people with the same idea, so it’s best to get your reservations early! Though there are additional shinkansen bullet trains during the fireworks, definitely catch one to your destination before 22:00! If you’re looking forward to getting some good sleep and rest, then you’d better start walking to the station by 21:00, arrive there around 21:20 and start lining up for the train.
If you have the Japan Rail Pass, then also be sure to check out this article!
Major loss if you didn’t know! What is the Japan Rail Pass?
5. Definitely get reserved tickets which will help you break through the crowds!
Due to traffic regulations, there are no people who come to watch the Omagari National Fireworks Competition by car. There are also limits to the amount of people allowed into the JR Omagari Station and platforms, so that people don’t fall off the platforms and onto the train tracks. When you get to the station, you’ll see information boards about departing trains that look like this:
– Ouu Main Line Kudari (headed for Akita)
– Ouu Main Line Nobori (headed for Yokote)
– Tazawa-ko (Lake Tazawa) Line (Headed for Tazawa-ko)
– Akita Shinkansen (Standing Express Ticket)
– Akita Shinkansen (Reserved Ticket Holders)
And so there are five respective lines.
There are probably lots of foreigners that have trouble reading Japanese, so be sure to show your ticket to the train attendants at the back of the lines who will help guide you to the appropriate line. Ideally, what you should do is get a reserved shinkansen ticket for the trip to your next destination. For those who will follow the previous instructions on staying in Sendai city and have previously bought reserved tickets for the shinkansen, get in the line that reads: “秋田新幹線 (指定席券保持者)” (Akita Shinkansen) [Reserved Ticket Holders]. When it comes time for you to ride the train, there will be an announcement in Japanese that goes, “●●ji hatsu, ●●iki desu!” (“●●scheduled departure, headed for ●●!”). If you have a reserved ticket for that train, then you will be able to get on board safely for your trip. At some other firework shows, there is a chance you may not be able to get on a train even if you have the proper reserved seat tickets due to admission limits onto the platforms, which is thankfully not the case here!
Because the announcements will be in Japanese, be sure to ask a nearby station attendant to check your ticket one more time 10 minutes before your scheduled train just to be safe. Of course, there is a limit to the amount of reserved ticket seats on the shinkansen trains. If you have the Japan Rail Pass, then you can get your reserved tickets beforehand from overseas, so be sure to get your reserved tickets as soon as you make plans to head to the firework show!
Omagari National Fireworks Comptetition Firework Show（全国花火競技大会 大曲の花火）
Date : Every year at the end of August; On August 27 (Saturday) in 2016
Place : Omonogawa Riverbed Special Event Site (In between the Omagari Firework Bridge and the Himegami Bridge)（雄物川河川敷特設会場（大曲花火大橋と姫神橋の間））
Time : Afternoon fireworks start from 17:30, night fireworks last from 18:50 to 21:30
Access : 25-minute walk from JR Omagari Station
Phone No. : +81-187-62-1262
No postponement for rain
This firework show started in 1879 at a shrine festival, when local owners of businesses in the red light district pooled their money together for a show of 350 firework explosions. Of the top three firework shows of Japan, this is the one with the most history. This is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining firework shows in Japan with music and songs by famous Japanese singers! In 2016, the show will be held over the course of two weekdays which may make it less crowded than if it was on a Saturday and Sunday.
Fireworks launch from the ground high into the night as if giant flowers were blooming across the entirety of the sky making for a sight you won’t be able to take your eyes off of!
There are frequent shinkansen trains running through Nagaoka Station and while the area is sure to be crowded, you’ll be sure to get home safely if you leave early enough!
1. Reserve a hotel at Echigo Yuzawa!
If you stay and watch until the end of the firework show, then it will take about 30 minutes to walk with the crowds to wait in lines at the station around 22:00. But too bad! The last shinkansen train to Tokyo has already left. At times other than the firework festival, the city of Nagaoka is quiet. But during this two-day period when around 960,000 people surge the town, there’s no way to get hotel reservations here. So, we recommend staying in Echigo Yuzawa which is located two stops from the Shinkansen Nagaoka Station in the direction towards Tokyo. Because the area is famous for ski resorts and onsen (hot springs), there are lots of hotels to be found. Come here to relax and let the stress of the firework show float away in the hot spring pools.
Of course, there are lots of other people with the same idea, so be sure to get reservations far beforehand! There are loads of accommodations in the area being a popular hot spring destination, but be sure to reserve a plan without dinner at your hotel or ryokan (Japanese-style inn). After watching the fireworks, you won’t be able to make it back in time for any scheduled dining at your accommodation, so best head to some of the izakaya (Japanese style pub) for your celebratory drinks and food.
Even though the local trains that stop at every station are cheap, definitely don’t ride them. These trains run infrequently so you’ll get caught up in the large crowds of people that will be trying to ride them. Riding on one of these super-packed trains for 76 minutes is well … hell.
2. We recommend this for sightseeing! Reserve a hotel in Niigata city
What a waste it would be to come all the way to Niigata Prefecture just to stay for the firework show! For those who want to see more of the area head to Niigata city located 2 stops away from the Shinkansen Nagaoka Station. The shinkansen trains that run to Niigata city continue all the way until 23:30. Also, it’s only a 22-minute ride. Even if it’s crowded that’s a short enough distance to bite your lip and bear the ride, right? There are lots of hotels in Niigata, so go ahead and book your reservation beforehand! Head to Sado Island the next day on a two and a half hour ferry ride! What a wonderful plan. Summer on Sado Island is nothing short of awesome!
(Source：tkro / PIXTA）
3. Watch the fireworks from the train station side!
The Nagaoka Festival Fireworks Competition can be enjoyed in the panoramic views along both embankments of the Shinano River. The fireworks are sent up across the bridge that can be reached by walking straight out from Nagaoka Station, but don’t cross the bridge! It’s not possible to enter the free seating area located before the bridge before 14:00 which is a godsend for travelers coming to see the fireworks from afar and can’t get into town any earlier. So, for those who want to sit and enjoy the firework show be sure to get to the free seating area by 14:00. Claim a spot in the free seating area with the station to your back on the right, and when the firework show starts to come to an end, watch the finale as you make your way back towards the station for your train. The seating areas to the left of the Ote Bridge require admission fees. If you don’t cross the bridge, it will only take a 20-minute straight walk to the station. If you hurry just after the firework show ends, then you can arrive at the head of the crowd at Nagaoka Station. There are also free-seating areas located on the left side of the Chosei Bridge walking from Nagaoka Station. It’s a little far from the station so be sure to get an early start!
★Secret Tip … watch the fireworks from the roads with the locals near the river embankments which are closed to traffic during this time! From this spot, you can see the fireworks on the station side in front of the bridge.
5. Shuttle buses only run one way!
Special buses for the fireworks run from the bus terminal at the Ote Exit of Nagaoka Station. There are buses that will take you to three of the viewing areas for 170 yen, but for those who have come by train should only use the shuttle bus that leaves from the Ote Exit No. 5! Other buses that leave the station head to locations past Ote Bridge and Chosei Bridge. If you end up going past Ote Bridge then you won’t be able to make it back in time for your shinkansen train due to closed roads that also applies to pedestrians, forcing you to make a wide detour back to the station which takes much more time. Whether you take the shuttle bus or walk, both will take roughly the same 20 minutes. In fact, walking ends up being faster. Also, remember that there are no more shuttle buses after the firework show starts.
6. If you head back before the end of the show, it’s possible to make it to the train back to Tokyo!
Extra shinkansen trains run during the time of the Nagaoka Festival Fireworks. The train times change slightly from year to year, so be sure to check the official website or the timetables at the station before you leave. We recommend leaving before the end of the show. Even doing so, still expect large crowds and purchase your reserved seat tickets beforehand. Currently, in June 2016, if you make the last scheduled shinkansen train at 21:58, you can get into Tokyo Station at 23:40. For those who have hotels around the train lines with late last trains like the Yamanote Line you should be able to make it to your accommodation in time on the trains. Theoretically, you should be able to watch the fireworks until 21:10, but when the train station gets overcrowded and the limit for the amount of people allowed in the train station and on the platforms is exceeded, there is a chance that you will not be able to get on a train even if you already have reserved tickets! There are four shinkansen trains that run in the hour of 21:00, but we recommend aiming for the first one just to be safe. If you manage to barely get on the non-reserved seating area then you’re most likely going to find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder in dense crowds in the isles between the train seats or bathrooms all the way to Tokyo.
Nagaoka Festival Fireworks Competition（長岡まつり大花火大会）
Date : Every year in early August *In 2016, it’s August 2 (Tuesday) and 3 (Wednesday)
Place : Shinano-gawa riverbed, downstream side of the Chosei Bridge, Nagaoka city, Niigata Prefecture （新潟県長岡市長生橋下流 信濃川河川敷）
Time : 19:20 – 21:10 (scheduled)
Access : 30-minute walk from the JR Nagaoka Station
Phone No. : +81-258-39-2221
No postponement for rain
Not only is the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition one of the top three firework shows in Japan, according to many reviews and tourism websites, this is the firework show with a continuing reputation as being number one. This firework show started in 1925, when the local chief Buddhist priest paid for the fireworks out of his own pocket.
Of the top three firework festivals in Japan, this is the one that’s hardest to get home from. It is possible to catch express trains at the nearest train station, Tsuchiura Station, but even if you have reserved seat tickets, there are big chances you won’t make your train due to limits on people allowed in the train stations and on the waiting platforms. If you can’t make your train, then there’s really nothing you can do. This firework show is feared as the one with the longest waits due to station limits! What should you do?!
1. Get hotel reservations if possible
There are very few hotels in Tsuchiura. But inquiring is well worth it! If you can get hotel reservations in town, then you’ve won! This way you can enjoy the firework show and then relax in your nearby hotel.
Bell’s Inn Tsuchiura – Largest hotel in downtown Tsuchiura with 161 rooms. Phone No.: +81-29-826-1400.
Hotel Marroad Tsukuba – 12-minute walk from Tsuchiura Station. Restaurant on the 13F from where you can see the fireworks. Reservations mandatory. Phone No.: +81-29-822-3000.
Okura Frontier Hotel Tsukuba – Limited availability hotel welcome plans held every year. Phone No.: +81-29-852-1112.
There are some other hotels in Tsuchiura. Around the time of the fireworks it isn’t possible to reserve rooms online, so be sure to call the hotels directly.
2. Don’t take the shuttle bus to the firework viewing grounds!
Those who choose to watch the firework show within walking distance to the train stations are those who will survive! If you watch the firework show to the very end and wait in line for the shuttle buses then … oh no! By the time you get back to the station, the trains will be gone and you’ll be forced to sleep outside. There’s no need to go all the way to the official viewing grounds to enjoy the fireworks. You won’t miss any of the glory and wonder of the fireworks by watching from the purple-colored section indicated on the map below on the embankment of the Sakura River. Head about 1 km away from the station to the “粋” (“iki”) mark indicated on the map and watch the fireworks from there. This spot only 15 minutes away from the station makes your transport extremely convenient.
3. Head back early
The entry limit of people into the station at the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition is by far the tightest of all the top three firework shows in Japan. The number of local and express trains that run through the station are few that the number of people trying to get on the trains far exceeds the limits of the station, which means even those who have purchased reserved tickets beforehand may not be able to reach their train. It’s not uncommon to wait three hours for your train after the firework show has finished. Every year, there are a large number of people who can’t make their last trains home. The picture below is of those who left before the firework show finished and headed back early to the station reaching Tsuchiura Station around 20:40. Even if you leave early, you’ll still find yourself in large crowds and lines.
At 19:30 or 19:45 at the latest, leave your spot along the Sakura River behind you and aim to catch a 20:24 express train back to Tokyo. If you can’t make that train then take the local train that stops at every station on the way home. It’s OK to buy just a local train ticket even if you’re riding an express train because you can purchase the extra required express ticket from the train attendant on board. If you head to the station at this time then you’ll make it just before the station starts reaching its maximum limit. If you do it right, you can smoothly go from fireworks, to train station, to train back home. Even if you get caught in the crowds, you’ll be at the head of the wave and may only have to wait around 30 minutes. If you happen to take the infrequent local train on the JR Joban Line that makes every stop along the way, then you’re likely to get on board a super packed train no matter how early you leave the firework show.
Of the top three firework festivals in Japan, this is the only one that takes place in October so in order to stay warm while watching the beautiful night fireworks be sure to bring a coat.
Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition（土浦全国花火競技大会）
Date : Every first Saturday of October (On Oct 1, 2016)
Place : (firework launching location) 260 Sanoko, Tsuchiura city, Ibaraki Prefecture（茨城県土浦市佐野子260（打ち上げ場所））
Time : 18:00 – 20:30
Access : 30-minute walk from the west exit of Tsuchiura Station on the JR Joban Line. *Fee required shuttle buses also run from the JR Tsuchiura Station.
Phone No. : +81-29-826-1111 (Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition Executive Committee)
Cancelled in case of severe weather
The schedules of firework shows, airplanes, and trains change slightly every year. Please be sure to make your plans only after thoroughly checking schedules on respective home websites!
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IKIDANE NIPPON Editor Senior Travel Writers