Though Tokyo can be hot and humid on summer days, as the sun sets, the city cools down and locals flock to watch the fireworks, wearing colorful cotton yukata. The trick is to beat the crowds and find the best vantage points.
Japan has enjoyed fireworks since 1549. Tokyo’s Sumida River was one of the early venues and still hosts the city’s biggest display. While lighting up the night sky and delighting onlookers, fireworks are believed to drive away evil spirits. If you want to delve deeper into their history, you can visit Ryogoku Fireworks Museum. Otherwise, head to a river in summer and enjoy the spectacle.
There are small local festivals by parks and rivers all over Tokyo in July and August, but the big events draw the crowds with their lavish displays. Sumida Fireworks Festival on July 28 draws around a million viewers each year to see almost 20,000 fireworks. Getting a good vantage point is key—you can take a yakatabune boat on the river, seek out a side street around Asakusa station or opt for one of the bridges further up the river. Some local hotels offer good vantage points, but book out early.
If you want to avoid the crowds, head to one of the smaller festivals, that still offer delicious street food stalls, exciting explosions and traditional fun. Showa Kinen Park near Tachikawa has a fireworks festival on July 28 in extensive parklands. Closer to the city, head to the charming traditional town of Shibamata to see the skies light up over the Edogawa River, from the riverside baseball grounds on July 24.
The classic way to enjoy the fireworks is on the water, floating around Tokyo Bay on a traditional yakatabune. These long, low, boats cruise the rivers, festooned with lanterns, recalling the summer nights in the Edo period, when they were the pleasure boats of rich merchants and samurai. The boats are like mobile restaurants, offering dishes like tempura and sashimi as guests sit on tatami. Tokyo Skytree offers a true bird’s eye view of the Sumidagawa Fireworks, but tickets are limited. You can ballot online and take your chances, or book through a tour company.